100 New Homes in Roland Park? Residents Vow to Fight

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Baltimore Country Club, Roland Park.
Baltimore Country Club, Roland Park. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Fearing a threat to the character of their community, Roland Park residents are questioning an effort by the Baltimore Country Club to secure zoning that would permit “well more than 100 homes” on a 32-acre parcel it owns in the neighborhood.


In an “urgent message” emailed on September 25 to members of the Roland Park Civic League, organization president Ian MacFarlane warned that the country club has hired an “experienced political lobbying team” and is using the citywide rezoning process currently underway to obtain zoning for the open space that he believes could adversely affect the quality of life in Roland Park.

“This is a very important letter to residents about a threat to the character of Roland Park,” MacFarlane wrote. “The issue: whether a developer could put a subdivision on Baltimore Country Club (BCC) land that is more densely built than the rest of our historic neighborhood.

“BCC has hired the experienced political lobbying team of Harris, Jones & Malone and is threatening litigation in an effort to win zoning that would allow well more than 100 homes on the open space that sweeps up from Falls Road to their clubhouse. They have timed their effort for the 11th hour of the city’s long effort to establish new zoning for all properties in Baltimore. Our elected representatives are feeling the pressure of these hired guns.”

MacFarlane noted that the country club’s open space is surrounded by homes on lots “from about 10,000 square feet to 64,000 square feet” and that the average size of nearby lots is 22,000 square feet.

“BCC wants their zoning to allow one house on every 9,000 square feet,” he said. “There is not a single home surrounding the property that has such a small lot. With this zoning, if BCC were to sell the property to a developer, they would be able to construct well more than 100 homes on the 32-acre parcel.”

MacFarlane acknowledged in his open letter to the community that “most of Roland Park is currently zoned for one house on every 7,300 square feet,” but he said that figure “does not reflect the neighborhood’s actual construction.”

The average lot size for all of the homes west of Roland Avenue, not just the houses next to the country club, is 18,000 square feet, he said. “We are trying to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood, as it exists in reality.”

MacFarlane said the Civic League, on behalf of the residents of Roland Park, advocates that the country club’s open space be zoned R-1-C, which would permit one house for every 21,780 square feet, or R-1-D, which would permit one house for every 14,420 square feet. “This would allow construction of roughly half the number of houses on the land versus what BCC is seeking,” which is R-1-E zoning, he wrote.

He noted that one of the stated goals of the citywide rezoning process, called Transform Baltimore, is “to preserve the character of residential neighborhoods” in the city.

The Transform Baltimore recommendations are expected to come up for a final City Council vote in October.
According to city planner Laurie Feinberg, who is leading the Transform Baltimore effort, the country club parcel is currently zoned R-1, which allows one house for every 7,300 square feet of land.

Feinberg, assistant director of the city planning department, said the current recommendation is for the country club’s property to be zoned R-1-E, which would allow one house for every 9,000 square feet. She said R-1-E zoning has been the recommendation for the country club parcel since 2011 and was proposed by city planners, as part of te comprehensive review of all properties, not the country club.

Feinberg said the planning department has estimated that a homebuilder could get approximately 52 houses on the country club parcel with R-1-E zoning, not “well more than 100,” because the land slopes, some sections of it cannot be built on, and roads would take up part of the property, leaving less land for home sites.

Feinberg said country club representatives were not happy with the category when it was first proposed in 2011 but did not take steps to contest it. She said they are not making any 11th hour effort to ask the city to modify the proposed zoning. “The country club has been pretty consistent all along, “ she said.

MacFarlane said that the country club wrote to its members on September 23, asking them to contact City Councilman member Sharon Green Middleton, who represents part of Roland Park, urging her to “change her mind” about zoning for the country club property.

He said the country club’s letter contained several “egregious” statements and the Civic League wants to set the record straight.

“First,” he wrote, “BCC says that the Roland Park Civic League is reneging on a previous zoning deal. They say the RPCL agreed to let them have the 9,000 square foot zoning. This is false.

“RPCL officials are unaware of any deal. We are a community organization that is governed by an elected board. Everything we do must be discussed and voted on. Our process is deliberate, transparent and requires collective board action. Our board has never deliberated on any zoning issue regarding the BCC property other than the R-1-C/D position…

“Second, BCC said RPCL is trying to downzone and devalue their land so the neighborhood can purchase it. This is also false. No matter who owns the land, zoning to match the surrounding community is of utmost importance. There are more than 200 neighborhoods in Baltimore City, all working to protect the unique character of their communities. We are no different.”
MacFarlane said the country club also provided inaccurate information to its members about the community’s efforts to buy the open space.

“BCC has told their members that the RPCL had made one ‘low ball and convoluted offer which made absolutely no economic sense,’ ” he wrote. “In fact, Roland Park has made seven offers to the BCC in 17 years, not one of which was accepted. In 2015, the Roland Park Community Foundation hired an independent appraiser to establish the fair market value of the land, using the highest and best use of the land to determine price. An offer was then made at that price. It was rejected.”

MacFarlane urged Roland Park residents to contact their City Council representatives and ask them to support the Civic League’s position in the Transform Baltimore process.

“We need you to contact your City Council representative – Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton or Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke – and ask for her continued support to protect our zoning,” he wrote.

“Please tell the City Council to stand with its Baltimore constituents,” he said. “Zoning lasts for generations. It is of the utmost importance that the zoning on the BCC land should reflect the actual homes and lots of the surrounding community.”

Dear Readers: We welcome your comments. As many of you know, the comment rules in the Baltimore Fishbowl are no name-calling, no personal attacks, and no vulgarity. After receiving some aggressive comments over the last few days, we are adding one more rule: no insults. The Baltimore Fishbowl does not want to be used as a vehicle for an already too aggressive public dialogue, not just here but in our culture as a whole.

We reserve the right to edit your comments.

– Susan Dunn, Baltimore Fishbowl

 

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts


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29 COMMENTS

  1. As time has passed, I feel more and more that it is a shame that Keswick wasn’t allowed to build their Blakehurst-type of “retirement living’ community when they were willing and able to do so. As I understand it, BCC does have the right to sell that property? It is their private property? From what I gather, I don’t think that the RPCL ever made a realistic offer, and I also don’t know that the RPCL had the funds to take care of the property, were they able to purchase it. I wonder if the neighborhood will get behind the RPCL now…especially after the whole debacle (just my opinion) with Roland Avenue. We’ll have to wait and see.

  2. The Roland Park dog won’t hunt. Too disjointed, not able to agree on anything other than their dislike of change in any form- not helpful when engaging city officials. In addition to the incompetence on display in the various Roland Ave projects, just look at the disaster that has become the Cross Keys shopping center (which has been unable to renovate for years due to the stonewalling and indecision of the Civic League)

  3. It is incredibly hypocritical that the residents of the area expect their private property rights to be protected at all costs, yet they see no issue with trampling on the private property rights of others, in this case on the private property rights of BCC. The “save the park” effoet a few years ago was surreal inasmuch as that is private property, and not a public park. If the residents of Roland Park are so desperate to maintain it as a park, then perhaps they ought to finally band together and make a realistic offer for the property. Instead, like all beneficiaries of a public good for which they have not paid, they wish to continue to have enjoyment of land they do not own. Clearly their ineptitude in planning bike lanes suggest that urban planning is not their forte. Perhaps the club should sell the land for a mega church, a use which would be permitted under either of the zoning schemes currently sought, and would put the residents in an interesting position to fight an inner-city church 🙂

    • I do not see people from Roland Park “using” the land and I live very nearby. The club can certainly eject anyone anytime they wish if they do see trespassers just as any property owner can.

      On two other points – the RPCL did not “plan” the bike lanes. They were planned by city planners and DOT.

      And lastly – what is the real point that you are making with an “inner city church”? If it is the point I think you are making I take extreme offense. We have chosen to live in the city unlike the vast majority of BCC members.

  4. Back in ’08, the club wanted to sell the land so a development double the size of what was then at the Rotunda could be dropped into the middle of our historic neighborhood. Now they want to zone it to allow up to 100 new homes. They say they’ve “provided stability, security and value” to Roland Park. Not from where I stand. #BCCeyesore #howcanwetrustBCC https://t.co/bSLJ9Q1iTr

    • Enough is enough Martha- it’s obvious that you penned the letter (the subject of this fishbowl post) that Ian supposedly “wrote” to the community- all I had to do was look at the metadata in that PDF, and you were listed as the author. I seriously doubt Keswick would have been twice the size of the Rotunda (and even if it were, at least the Rotunda is done nicely, unlike pathetic Cross Keys, which has been unable to renovate due to the stranglehold that RPCL has kept on it for years because of a covenant). Also, the pictures you linked to are private property and SHOULD be fenced- it’s not like BCC land is a public park. Maybe it is time for BCC fight back by selling to a new mega church, as another reader commented, if the politicians vote for R-1-D zoning, as they indicate they are currently supportive of.

    • I hope BCC sells the land to a 7-11 or a McDonalds….let the free loaders that think the land is theirs smell fried food starting at 5:00 am every day.

    • The land is zoned for single family residential. I don’t think the club members want to smell fast food at their daughter’s or son’s wedding any more than I do. Perhaps it would be good for you to familiarize yourself with the facts and to become more engaged with the issues at hand. There is already a 7-11 on Falls Rd BTW.

    • At least I’m not trying to hide my identity. I’ve lived in Roland Park for almost 20 years. As a sign of how little I trust BCC, given the outright lies it’s told about this situation in a letter likely penned by its high-priced lobbying firm, you shouldn’t be surprised that I doubt you even live here, “Roland Parker.”

    • Nice dodge. As you know since you took the time to examine the metadata, the letter was written collaboratively.

    • Martha was the last to edit the letter, which was certainly a collaborative effort. The letter was constructed by members of the Community Foundation and Civic League as they were the parties who have been actively involved in the zoning and land use issues.

      The RPCL has actively engaged with DOT at every turn on the road paving project on Roland. If it were not for engaged neighbors, supported by the CL, the curbs would not have been re-done and the trees replanted.

      As a former member of the Civic League Board and current Civic League Member I encourage you to become involved if you feel that your voice is not heard.

      Having actually been on The Cross Keys Committee, there has been no stone-walling. We expressed concerns about lighting and ingress and egress which supported the concerns of those residents along Falls Rd that are most directly affected. We have worked actively and collaboratively with the owners of Cross Keys. Plans were presented at a CL meeting a few months ago.

      There are always conflicting interests in any neighborhood and in any organization. The organizations can only be their best if they have maximum participation.

  5. Wow! BmoreFishbowl. I like getting my local info from you but really?

    First- your sensational headline really grabbed my attention.
    Second – while i am not firm on which side i take on this, your alarmist headline and one sided reporting is rather disappointing.
    Three – a photograph which was mine, on my facebook page, appeared as an illustration to a story in Fishbowl a few months ago. No one asked, it just showed up.

    These thing all make me wonder about your slant and professionalism. Will be storing up my grains of salt for Fishbowl reading in the future.

  6. It took no time at all! When I received it out of the blue on the listserv I found it odd that Ian didn’t sign his name, so I clicked file->properties and voila there you were!

    Who were the lucky few that collaborated on this? It seems there are select individuals who think they can unilaterally run our neighborhood behind the scenes- maybe I wouldn’t feel be so bitter if things were more transparent…

  7. “Roland Parker” is clearly not a person who cares about Roland Park enough to even be honest about who they are. In our country, you make your accusations in public and we each have the right to face our accusers. If you don’t have the courage to say who you are, your comments are irrelevant and unimportant.

    The same is true of “TellTruth”. They sound just like the BCC letter that was mailed out last Friday. They miss the fact that we are only asking for zoning that matches the rest of the neighborhood. That is the purpose of zoning, to protect the property rights of the entire community.

    BCC has not allowed neighbors onto that land for 8 years, so they can hardly say that the neighborhood has enjoyed the land. They claim to be good neighbors, but the truth is that they have been very inhospitable.

    • So much false propaganda from the trespassing neighbors. I live in Roland Park and have absolutely no reason to believe that BCC should not be entitled to the zoning they’ve had for years. You liberals always want to take away everyone’s land use rights. If you don’t want to live in a densely populated area, DONT LIVE IN THE CITY. Move to the county. I chose to live in the city, among my close neighbors so that I can enjoy the walk-ability to shops, restaurants, etc. BCC has been an institution in Roland Park and creates jobs, tax money, etc. Let’s not screw them over.

    • “Roland Parker” is clearly not a person who cares about Roland Park enough to even be honest about who they are.

      –For fear of retribution!

      In our country, you make your accusations in public and we each have the right to face our accusers. If you don’t have the courage to say who you are, your comments are irrelevant and unimportant.

      –When in a court of law maybe… otherwise, first amendment rights still apply!

  8. Confused as to why a representative from BCC was not quoted once in an article about BCC. Fishbowl, what happened here?

  9. Has the paper or author confirmed any of this information? Its very sad what qualifies as journalism; unfortunately an agenda and a laptop are all that is required these days.

  10. The Baltimore County Club is not seeking a re-zoning. It is the Roland Park Civic League that wants to strip the Club of its existing rights. The Civic League is using scare tactics to imply that townhouses are in the works. I call BS on that! I think it is far more likely that the RPCL wants something for nothing.

    • Hopefully it will just be a failed attempt by a select few of the RPCL that think they know better for our neighborhood.

  11. Dear Readers: Glad you all feel so passionately about Roland Park and this issue. For those of you who do not know, the comment rules in the Baltimore Fishbowl are no name-calling, no personal attacks, and no vulgarity. If you do not see your comment here, it is because you broke one of the rules. Sorry.

    • Then delete this comment too: “Roland Parker” is clearly not a person who cares about Roland Park enough to even be honest about who they are. In our country, you make your accusations in public and we each have the right to face our accusers. If you don’t have the courage to say who you are, your comments are irrelevant and unimportant.

  12. Fish Bowl – nice of you to publish this article on the day of the vote and not get any input from BCC – how one-sided. There are so many inaccuracies here that you would have to rewrite the entire thing. The RPCL only wants the land rezoned so it can be the cheapest price possible to purchase. Bottom line. And to Martha – I am glad BCC put up the fences and the locks that you pictured so that the Roland Park residents couldn’t use the land. The Keswick deal would have GIVEN Roland Park a 5 acre open space park and dog run. No charge. But the RPCL had to get greedy. Those of you running RPCL forget that you have residents that are also BCC members.

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