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.”
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