Despite hearing arguments from opponents who fear a proposed new apartment building will negatively impact North Roland Park, Poplar Hill and other areas, a City Council committee voted yesterday to approve legislation that would allow the project to be built.
The Land Use and Transportation Committee voted 6-0, with one abstention, to designate a parcel at 1190 W. Northern Parkway as a Residential Planned Unit Development and accept a plan to let developers construct a $40 million, six-level, 148-unit apartment building called The Overlook at Roland Park.
The land use bill creating the Planned Unit Development will now head to a full council vote next week. If it passes and is signed into law by Mayor Catherine Pugh, the developers say they want to begin construction before the end of the year.
The vote capped a three-hour hearing in which the developer, Jonathan Ehrenfeld of Blue Ocean Realty, and opponents of the development offered reasons the council should or should not approve the project. Both sides wore custom T-shirts, with supporters sporting blue-and-white tees that said, “Overlook, Good for Baltimore!” and opponents wearing ones that read, “Don’t Overlook Us!”
City officials also testified about the development and design review process, noting that the city’s Planning Commission and the North Roland Park Association had previously approved the project.
In some ways, the hearing was a continuation of a community meeting on May 25 attended by nearly 200 people. Much of the discussion involved the project’s potential impact on traffic in the area, especially at the intersection of Falls Road and Northern Parkway. Opponents said the intersection is already one of the least safe crossroads in the city, and that the addition of 148 apartments will make it worse.
Shale Stiller, an attorney who lives close to the development site, said he believes supporters of the project are guilty of spreading “alternative facts.”
“How is this ordinance going to reduce street congestion?” he asked the council. “We have a terrible situation…This [Planned Unit Development] will violate the standards that you all have set.”
Valorie LaCour, chief of transportation planning for the city’s Department of Transportation, acknowledged that the intersection is one of the city’s busiest during peak morning and evening commuting hours. During the rest of the day, she said, “it functions fairly normally.”
LaCour said the intersection sees about 46,000 “trips” a day, and compared it to an intersection on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that gets 77,000 trips a day. She said many drivers have gotten used to navigating the Northern Parkway intersection over the years, and that many get through because drivers are courteous to each other.
LaCour told council members her department is taking steps to mitigate problems that could stem from The Overlook development. Developers will not receive a building permit until they pay the department a “mitigation” fee of $18,000 for “pedestrian and transportation rider improvements at Falls Road and Northern Parkway,” she said.
The transportation department can also carry out a more comprehensive redesign of the intersection to address traffic flow issues. The intersection is on the city’s priority list, but “it has not risen up to the level of the top three that we can fund,” she said.
Opponents of the project raised other issues about the planning process and the way the city processes development applications.
Stiller said real estate consultants have estimated homes near the construction site could lose 10 to 20 percent of their value — or up to 40 percent, in some cases — if the Overlook is built, largely because many trees will be cut down to build the project.
“If you tear down these trees,” he said, “the bucolic and beautiful views that these homes have will be taken away.”
Stiller also said Blue Ocean does not currently own the land, but that developers have said at various times that they have an option and a contract to buy the 12-acre parcel. He said it has “never been clear” to him why the city is willing to change zoning for an applicant that doesn’t own the land involved.
“Why would the City Council want to go through all this Sturm und Drang with someone who only has an option?” he asked.
Several speakers noted that 60 percent of North Roland Park and Poplar Hill residents have signed “individual declarations” objecting to a letter of support for the project signed by the presidents of the North Roland Park Association and the Poplar Hill Association.
Speakers argued the North Roland Park Association’s support shouldn’t have been considered because it “lost its charter” several years ago.
Poplar Hill resident Mary Ann Mears said she worries about the way the city reviews proposals for projects such as The Overlook.
“We applaud bringing more residents to the city, but it should not be at the expense of the existing community,” she said. “We want an open, transparent and inclusive process …Baltimore can do better.”
Carol Everson of Sabina-Mattefeldt said she plans to sell her house on Mattefeldt Avenue and move out of the state if the PUD is adopted. “It is a quality of life issue to me,” she said.
Council members Ed Reisinger, the committee chairman, Sharon Green Middleton, Eric Costello, Ryan Dorsey, Leon Pinkett III and Robert Stokes, Sr. voted in favor of the project. Mary Pat Clarke abstained, saying she has relatives who live in Sabina-Mattefeldt, which may be considered a conflict of interest.
Dorsey said he thinks the project has an excess of parking spaces, will promote “car dependency” and will perpetuate racial segregation in the city because the average city resident won’t be able to afford to live there. But he also noted that the Planning Commission has approved the project and that limits what the council can do, so he voted “yes.”
Sharon Middleton said she cast her vote in deference to the councilman who introduced the bill, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.
Reisinger said the full council will consider the bill when it meets on Monday, June 12.
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