Entry corner rendering of The Claiborne at Roland Park.

Developers who want to construct a $25 million assisted living and memory care facility in North Roland Park will ask Baltimore’s zoning board this month for two variances they need to move ahead with construction.

Baltimore’s Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals has set June 29 as the date for a public hearing to consider plans for a 110-room, three-story residential facility proposed by Claiborne Senior Living of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Claiborne has a contract to purchase 12 acres for the project near the intersection of Falls Road and Northern Parkway. The seller is Blue Ocean Realty of Baltimore, and the land is directly east of The Falls at Roland Park apartment building at 1190 West Northern Parkway. This would be Claiborne’s first project in Maryland.

Blue Ocean received Baltimore City Council approval in 2017 to build a $40 million, six-level, 148-unit apartment building called The Overlook at Roland Park on the wooded property, but community groups challenged the approval in court and Blue Ocean offered the land for sale. Opponents said they had concerns about the number of units in Blue Ocean’s project, the proposed height and the additional traffic it would generate, among other issues.

Claiborne was introduced as the contract buyer in March and presented plans for a building that would be roughly half as tall as Blue Ocean’s project and contain fewer units. The developers have indicated from the beginning they would need a conditional use variance that would permit an assisted living facility and a height variance that would permit a structure slightly taller than 35 feet above Northern Parkway, the height allowed by current zoning. Those variances are what they seek from the zoning board this month.

The contract buyers originally had until March 20 to decide whether to move ahead with their project, called The Claiborne at Roland Park, and get their deposit back. The seller gave them more time because they were making progress in negotiations with the surrounding communities. Claiborne has used the time to meet with representatives of five communities near the site, draft a set of agreements covering what it would and would not build, and revise its design for the project, which drew objections in March.

The project architect is John Marc Tolson of Arrive Architecture Group in Bedford, Texas. The project is not currently scheduled to be reviewed by Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel but the panel’s chair, Pavlina Ilieva, was hired separately by the surrounding communities to get the development team to modify its initial design so it would fit in better with Roland Park.

All of the residences in the building would be rentals. The 110 rooms are expected to house 120 residents because a few will be two-bedroom units. Monthly rents will range from $6,500 to $7,500 for one-bedroom units and $8,500 to $9,000 for memory care and two-bedroom units. Plans call for 48 parking spaces and about 50 employees over three shifts.  Claiborne’s timetable begins construction in early 2022 with completion in the second quarter of 2023.

The community groups involved in the negotiations with Claiborne are the Lehr Stream Neighborhood Association; the North Roland Park Improvement Association (NRPIA); Poplar Hill Association; Sabina-Mattfeldt Association and the Roland Park Civic League.

“The consensus from the people we have talked to is that the proposed Claiborne project is far superior in community impact than the proposed Blue Ocean apartment project that remains the subject of litigation and superior to other more dense development [projects] that could be permitted on the site,” said Doug Schmidt, president of the North Roland Park Improvement Association, in a message to its members.

The communities are asking Claiborne to agree not to build on six of the 12 acres; not to have any direct access to its development from Cliffhurst Road or St. George’s Road; not to build taller than The Falls building on Falls Road (not counting its mechanical penthouse); to restrict use to assisted living and memory care; to make the design compatible with the “character of the community,” and to maintain communications with the neighboring communities during and after construction.

The zoning board hearing is part of a virtual meeting that starts at 1 p.m. on June 29. Members of the North Roland Park Improvement Association are meeting on June 8 to decide whether to support the application for zoning waivers.  Other community groups are also meeting or already have met to take a position. The communities have been drafting a set of agreements that codify the concessions they seek in exchange for support from residents.

“Provided we vote to support the variance request, NRPIA, Poplar Hill, Lehr Stream and others will sign the agreements in advance of the Zoning Board hearing…to ensure they are legally binding before the Zoning Board votes,” Schmidt explained in his message.

Update: An earlier version of this story had the hearing date as June 15. The date has been changed to June 29.

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

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