Balto. County al­lows 40 homes on old golf course

Chest­nut Ridge zon­ing change angers op­po­nents

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

When Bal­ti­more County agreed to limit the re­de­vel­op­ment of a de­funct golf course in Lutherville to nine homes, in­stead of the 100 a de­vel­oper wanted, lo­cal preser­va­tion­ists cel­e­brated a vic­tory.

Neigh­bors of the old Chest­nut Ridge Coun­try Club and mem­bers of the Val­leys Plan­ning Coun­cil say the 2012 de­ci­sion helped pro­tect the area’s char­ac­ter.

Now they say they are sur­prised — and dis­ap­pointed — to learn the vic­tory was short-lived.

The County Coun­cil has re­versed the de­ci­sion, and granted a re­quest from the de­vel­oper to al­low dozens of homes.

“It’s an en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive site,” C.J. Ilardo is a prin­ci­pal with Cig­nal Corp., which gained per­mis­sion to build 40 homes at the for­mer Chest­nut Ridge Coun­try Club. said Liz Bux­ton, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Val­leys Plan­ning Coun­cil, which pro­motes preser­va­tion in the north­ern part of the county. “That’s what the [pre­vi­ous] zon­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion was de­signed to do — to

pro­tect the ar­eas that are sen­si­tive.”

The Val­leys Plan­ning Coun­cil had raised con­cerns that dozens of homes would draw more traf­fic to al­ready busy Falls Road, and could dam­age the wa­ter qual­ity of Dip­ping Pond Run, which flows along the old golf course.

But with the county’s bless­ing, Cig­nal Corp. is mar­ket­ing lots on the for­mer golf course.

The Ti­mo­nium-based de­vel­oper bought Chest­nut Ridge af­ter it closed amid fi­nan­cial trou­bles in 2011. It’s re­de­vel­op­ing the 230-acre prop­erty as an ex­clu­sive neigh­bor­hood called Cas­tanea, the Latin word for chest­nut.

The project is in a de­sir­able area of north­ern Bal­ti­more County, where sub­ur­bia gives way to rolling coun­try­side, but still close to In­ter­state 83 and the Bal­ti­more Belt­way.

“We’re ex­cited to move for­ward with the most el­e­gant com­mu­nity Bal­ti­more County has ever seen,” said C.J. Ilardo, a Cig­nal prin­ci­pal.

The zon­ing change, part of the com­pre­hen­sive zon­ing re­view com­pleted last month, was pro­posed by County Coun­cil Chair­woman Vicki Al­mond.

The Reis­ter­stown Demo­crat, who rep­re­sents the area, said al­low­ing more de­vel­op­ment at the for­mer golf course is the best way to end the law­suit filed by Cig­nal af­ter the 2012 de­ci­sion. She said it rep­re­sents a mid­dle ground be­tween the op­pos­ing de­sires of the de­vel­oper and neigh­bors for the prop­erty.

“I feel like my job as a coun­cilper­son, when peo­ple can­not come to­gether to a com­pro­mise, I step in,” Al­mond said.

She of­fered Cig­nal a deal: She would sup­port a zon­ing change that would al­low the de­vel­oper to build as many as 115 homes on the for­mer golf course. But Cig­nal would have to agree to build only 40, and to drop its law­suit.

The vote on Chest­nut Ridge was unan­i­mous — on zon­ing is­sues, coun­cil mem­bers gen­er­ally fol­low the lead of the mem­ber from that dis­trict.

Cig­nal of­fi­cials de­clined to dis­cuss the zon­ing change, other than to say they are glad to be able to move for­ward with the Cas­tanea de­vel­op­ment at Chest­nut Ridge.

Bux­ton said mem­bers of the Val­leys Plan­ning Coun­cil, who worked for years to pre­serve as much of Chest­nut Ridge as pos­si­ble, were dis­ap­pointed.

Al­mond summed up the re­ac­tion: “No one is happy.”

She said she pushed in 2012 to re­duce the num­ber of homes that could be built on the prop­erty in the hope that the sides could reach a com­pro­mise.

Cig­nal be­gan the ap­proval process for the nine lots — but also filed court chal­lenges to the de­ci­sion, say­ing it vastly changed the use of the land and re­duced the value of the prop­erty.

“Four years later, it feels like no time has passed,” Al­mond said. “The de­vel­op­ers have had a year to come to a com­pro­mise with the com­mu­nity, and the com­mu­nity as well. But that wasn’t hap­pen­ing ei­ther.”

Mem­bers of the Val­leys Plan­ning Coun­cil say al­low­ing 40 homes at Chest­nut Ridge adds to the en­croach­ing de­vel­op­ment march­ing north from Bal­ti­more.

“Each one of these de­vel­op­ments makes it eas­ier for the next one to oc­cur,” Bux­ton said. “Slowly, we’ll see the val­leys be­come like ev­ery other area in the county, with end­less sub­ur­ban sprawl.”

But she said the group isn’t sure if it has any re­course. She said mem­bers are weigh­ing their op­tions. In other cases, county res­i­dents un­happy with re­zon­ing de­ci­sions have filed law­suits or tried to put them on the bal­lot for vot­ers to de­cide.

Cig­nal is mov­ing for­ward with its plans to turn the old golf course into a neigh­bor­hood of lux­ury es­tates. The de­vel­oper has torn down the club­house and other build­ings, paved a road down the cen­ter of the prop­erty and in­stalled util­i­ties on the nine lots al­ready in the ap­proval process.

Real es­tate bro­ker Heidi Krauss lists lots start­ing at $700,000, and ad­ver­tises a pos­si­ble lux­ury home for $3.6 mil­lion.

While the first nine lots are mar­keted for sale, Cig­nal plans to start seek­ing ap­provals for the re­main­ing 31 lots, the de­vel­oper said, in the hope of of­fer­ing them for sale within a year.

The first lots are about three acres each, Cig­nal Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Maranto said. The re­main­ing lots will be four to five acres.

Maranto said the lots will be along the old fair­ways. He said nearly half of the land will be pre­served in for­est buf­fers and con­ser­va­tion ease­ments.

Cas­tanea will be a gated com­mu­nity, he said, with the en­trance marked by a stone gate­house.

“I think there’s a real de­mand for this type of prod­uct in this lo­ca­tion,” Maranto said.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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