Baltimore Country Club
A picture of the land in question from a 2008 New York Times story on a similar controversy regarding the property.
The Baltimore Country Club may move out of the city if it doesn’t get support from elected officials about zoning for property it owns, general manager and chief operating officer Michael Stott hinted in a letter sent to club members this week.

“Jobs will be lost if BCC leaves the City of Baltimore,” he warned in the letter, sent by email to members on September 28.

Stott accused members of the Roland Park Civic League of waging a campaign to persuade the City Council to downzone a 32-acre parcel owned by the country club, so it is less valuable to potential developers and the community can buy it for a lower price.

In his letter, Stott also said there is no interested party seeking to buy the country club’s land.

Stott sent his letter on the same day that the City Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee held a hearing about the rezoning of city properties as part of the Transform Baltimore process.

One of the properties up for rezoning is the undeveloped Baltimore Country Club tract, which stretches from Falls Road to its club house on Club Lane.

The Roland Park Civic League sent messages to its members this week urging them to ask their elected representatives to adjust zoning on the Baltimore County Club parcel to limit the number of homes that can be built on the parcel, in case the club sells it.

Civic League President Ian MacFarlane warned in his letter that the zoning designation recommended by city planners, R-1-E, would permit  the construction of “well more than 100 homes’” on the country club property. City planner Laurie Feinberg later said city planners estimate a builder could get approximately 52 homes on the country club property with R-1-E zoning, not more than 100.

Stott did not respond to a request for more information about the country club’s position on the rezoning process or his remark about the country club leaving the city and the jobs that would be lost.

Following are excerpts of his September 28 letter, in which he also responds to coverage of the controversy by the Baltimore Fishbowl.

Dear BCC members,

It is now time for BCC to be respectfully heard.

I write this email as the Baltimore City Land Use and Transportation Committee, which makes zoning recommendations to the full Baltimore City Council, meets this afternoon in preparation for the long-awaited TransForm Baltimore comprehensive re-zoning bill. Please read the article that the Roland Park Civic League, the leaders of our Roland Park community, discussed with the Baltimore Fishbowl publication (BCC was never contacted to add to the article).
We also encourage you to read the comments from individuals in retort to the Fishbowl article – it is nice that individuals have empathy and understanding for your 118-year-old business and institution in Baltimore City, and it is reassuring that others recognize the duplicitous nature of the Roland Park Civic League.

For BCC members’ historical understanding and for clarification of the Baltimore Fishbowl article:

The Roland Park Civic League continues to fabricate and lie about their actions and the Club’s. One hundred (100) homes are not possible by right or logistically able to be built on the entire RP property (note City Planner Laurie Feinberg’s remarks in the article). The Roland Park Civic League has never let the truth get in their way of vilifying Baltimore Country Club.

Where did they get their information about the Club building 100 homes on the property? Where did they get their information about the Club hiring lobbyists in order to develop our land? There is no interested party desiring to buy your RP land. Where did they get any of their information about the Club? The RP Civic League invents things to stir the community against the Club.

In 2006, we received an offer of $12.5M from the Keswick Group to purchase 17.5 acres of your undeveloped RP land. The land would have been used to build a high-end retirement community that would have brought hundreds of jobs and tens of tax paying residents to Baltimore City. We would have made sure these new senior neighbors with means would be respectful because we would be looking at their facility every day going forward. We were going to use the proceeds from the sale to invest capital into our RP facilities because reinvestment is required by tax law (reinvestment must take place within thirty-six months of the sale of a club asset) to avoid property gains taxes, and most critically, the 100+ year-old RP Clubhouse and campus NEEDS capital investment (please look at the parking lots).

BCC membership voted 91% in favor of the sale to the Keswick Group. We were also going to give the RP community a 5+ acre dog walking park as part of the project. The community, led by the RP Civic League, effectively and relentlessly disparaged the Club with their campaign to “Save the Park in Roland Park”. To be exact, your property has never been a “park”, although RP residents trespass on it like it is. Because of that misleading campaign, the elected officials declined to approve the Keswick project. Now the community sees an opportunity to make lasting and irreparable financial damage to BCC, and our elected officials are again lacking the courage to do what is right for the City of Baltimore.

The Club leadership, led by the President and the Board of Governors, are working diligently to protect the value of the BCC land and they have been engaged in this protection for years. The communication and appeals to Club members and BCC staff advocating for the Club has picked up in the last three weeks only because it was just days (truly at the 11th hour before the TransForm Baltimore vote) before RP Councilwoman, Sharon Green Middleton, told our representatives that she had changed her mind and would be proposing to the City Council that BCC not be downzoned from R-1 to R-1E, but that, at the request of the RP Civic League, BCC should be downzoned from R-1 to R-1C or R-1D…

Two weeks ago, we were in the office of an elected leader from Baltimore City and he/she said unprovoked, “We know why the Civic League wants your land downzoned; because they want to buy it at the lowest possible price and they said that to us”.  We just cannot understand why the City Council will not stand up for jobs (jobs will be lost if BCC leaves the City of Baltimore), business taxes, a historic and stable institution, etc.  Votes and councilmanic courtesy are what matters most, clearly…

Stott ended his letter by encouraging country club members to contact city officials to support the zoning that the club wants to see.

Ian MacFarlane, president of the Roland Park Civic League, could not be reached for  a response to Stott’s letter. MacFarlane indicated in his September 25 letter to the community that the Civic League wants zoning of the country club property to permit development that is consistent with that of surrounding properties.

The council is expected to take final action on the rezoning effort in October.

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 hostile insults (humorous insults are okay.  Kidding.).

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, Editor and Publisher, Baltimore Fishbowl

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

3 replies on “Baltimore Country Club Responds to RPCL and Baltimore Fishbowl”

  1. I don’t have a leg in this fight as I don’t live in Roland Park, but let’s be frank here. For all practical purposes the BCC left Baltimore decades ago when it moved most of its operations to the Five Farms location in Lutherville. With the closure of the tennis courts some years ago, few members use the Roland Park location. The clubhouse is primarily used as a rental facility for weddings. I’m sure there’s still some member activity at the Roland Park location but 95% of the club activities and usage is at Five Farms now.

    I do wish some kind of compromise could be achieved between the Club and the neighborhood. But it looks like there are big egos involved (on both sides). The club rejected several offers from the neighborhood to buy the land, and I believe even rejected generous offers from one or two neighborhood private schools who were interested in the land for playing fields. I wonder if the high offer from Keswick (12.5 million) has distorted the reality and it could be the actual value of the land is a lot lower and the club refuses to accept this.

    Let’s be frank, most of the potential new housing would be constructed bordering Falls Road and when I do the hypothetical number crunching based on value of existing houses along Falls Road in RP, any developer is going to struggle to sell those 52 potential houses and turn a profit if he or she buys the land for 12.5 million or a sum close to it. One only needs to look at the Washingtonville example in Poplar Hill which took years to sell out all 17 units and home sales have since then always be quite lackluster.

    I also wish the club could remember the long history it’s had in Roland Park and that the club was cofounded with the support of the developers of Roland Park, with the purpose of maintaining a large green belt in the community and retaining the feel of open countryside. Money isn’t everything. Being good neighbors is important. Respecting your history is also important. But I’m aware that history isn’t static and the community and the club have gone in different directions for some time now and perhaps the club has financial needs that need to be addressed by the sale of the land. And I’m sure that the initial reaction from community leaders have exacerbated the tensions with the club unnecessarily so.

    Perhaps the city could provide a mediator to liaise discussions between the BCC and the neighborhood and see of some type of compromise could be achieved. The land may rightfully belong to BCC, but the community has the right to try to protect itself as well.

    With huge egos on both side (a club populated by members who are leaders in their field and used to getting their way and a community populated by residents who are leaders in their field and used to getting there way), I’m going to make some popcorn and watch this with some interest.

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