by bob allen
The proposal for the residential development calls for about 10 duplex units to be built on a 2.3- acre property on the north side of the 200 block of West Timonium Road.
The site is almost adjacent to Interstate 83 interchange.
Most local residents consider the duplexes an attractive alternative to the 9,196 square-foot KinderCare facility that developer Michael Sabracos originally sought to build on the site.
"This is what we originally wanted, which is houses. We're getting them, and we're happy with it," Flo Monaghan Gitlin, president of the Pine Valley-Valleywood Community Association, said of the preliminary design proposal for Spencer's Crossing.
The proposal was rolled out at a special community input meeting June 22.
"These are going to be high-end houses and they are going to help the value of our properties."
It was the association that, along with its umbrella organization, the Greater Timonium Community Council, led the charge against KinderCare.
From the time the day care center was proposed a couple of years ago, the two community organizations fought it tooth and nail.
The groups argued that busy West Timonium Road was the wrong location for a facility that could serve about 154 children and said that it would worsen already-congested traffic.
Residents were also concerned that such a large commercial establishment would impinge upon the area's residential character. The property in question is zoned residential; the developer initially petitioned the county for a special exemption to build the center.
I-83 has long served as the demarcation line between Timonium Road's busy commercial strip to the east, between I-83 and York Road, and the quieter residential enclaves to the west where more than 440 families make their homes.
In mid-2003, Pine Valley-Valleywood residents registered their opposition to the center with a 272-2 vote against it in response to an association questionnaire.
More than 100 residents turned out for county hearings for Sabracos' special exemption request, many of them wearing badges with the word KinderCare with a red slash through it. About 20 residents testified as to why they thought it was a bad idea.
When the county zoning commissioner Lawrence Schmidt denied Sabracos' special exemption request in February 2004, residents were relieved.
Then Sabracos appealed the decision. In an interview at the time, Sabracos said he was shocked by the community's vehement opposition.
While Sabracos' appeal was pending, the Pine Valley- Valleywood association and Greater Timonium Community Council took two parallel actions.
On one front, it asked County Councilman Bryan McIntire to submit a request to rezone the property from DR2 to DR 5.5 during the county's Comprehensive Zoning Map Process They felt the zoning change would serve as an incentive to the developer by making a residential development there a more attractive alternative.
The DR 5.5. zoning, which was eventually granted, increased the number of homes that can be built on the site to 5.5 per acre.
On a parallel track, the two associations contacted Sabracos and suggested that the parties begin direct negotiations instead of squaring off at public hearings.
Sabracos was open to the suggestion.
"It was truly a negotiation," Gitlin said. "He wanted certain things, and we wanted certain things, and we went back and forth and back and forth. Finally, there was a point where he said, 'I understand what you're saying.'"
After weeks of negotiating, the community groups and the developer came to terms.
Eventually the two sides agreed on a covenant that not only limited development of the property to residential only, but also limited the number and types of houses that could be built. Gitlin said getting such an agreement was crucial because, even under DR 5.5 zoning, the developer would still be able to continue his special exemption appeal.
Gitlin said all parties - the Pine Valley-Valleywood Association, the Greater Timonium Community Council and Sabracos finally signed off on the covenant just hours before McIntire's zoning change request on the property came up for vote in the County Council.
Gitlin said if the agreement had not been finalized by the time the council voted, the community organiziations would have opposed the change. Because finalization of the covenant ran so close to the wire, Gitlin said she took two signed letters from the associations to the council meeting. One stated that the community supported the change. The other, to be submitted to the council if no agreement was reached with Sabracos, opposed it.
Ultimately, the covenant was signed, the property was rezoned and Sabracos withdrew his appeal.
Though Sabracos' final development proposal has yet to be approved by the county, most residents were pleased by what they saw and heard at the community input meeting, held at the Cockeysville library.
There were some concerns about the design of the area's storm water management system, and the county asked whether several proposed houses should have their backs to Timonium Road. But Gitlin and Lou Miller, president of The Greater Timonium Community Council, both said they were comfortable with the outcome.
"They have a good builder and they are going to build lovely homes," Gitlin said. "On the surface, it looks like what we want. I think it's going to all work out."
Sabracos, a Timonium resident who hopes to break ground on Spencer's Crossing in the first or second quarter of 2006, expressed similar satisfaction.
"We worked long and hard (in the negotiations) to come up with a product that they felt comfortable with in their back yard," he said. "We're pleased with the outcome. I think it's what the community wanted and it's a good product."
Lou Miller agreed.
"It's the best thing for Pine Valley and the best thing for that side of I-83," he said. "All in all, it's the right thing."