Balto. County allows 40 homes on old golf course
Chestnut Ridge zoning change angers opponents
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.