Neighbors upset by plans for houses on Newburg Avenue
Property already zoned for office use
By Marcia Amesmames@patuxent.com
Craig Witzke's request for small-scale commercial zoning at 9 and 11 Newburg Ave. has turned "terribly stressful" for him, the Catonsville developer said last week.
So many people called his Catonsville home since late July to complain about the request that his attorney was advising him not to comment, Witzke told the Times.
Almost 100 people had contacted 1st District Councilman Sam Moxley's Catonsville office by e-mail or phone between July 25 and Aug. 8 to discuss the issue, said Moxley aide Bryan Sheppard.
Most seemed eager to save the late Allan Muir's home at 11 Newburg Ave., unaware that no one has lived there since Witzke bought the property in 2006, Sheppard said.
Both 9 and 11 Newburg Ave. have been zoned for offices for more than a decade, Sheppard said.
Witzke said he intends to preserve the houses at 9 and 11 Newburg, but wants the zoning change because it would enable him to refinance a loan for the properties.
Sheppard and Witzke each said they were surprised by the sudden widespread concern regarding an issue that has been on the proverbial table for several months.
More than 500 people have signed a petition asking Moxley to recommend residential use for the properties, which combined are approximately 1 acre. The petition was sponsored by the 14-household Newburg Neighborhood Association.
At least 268 of the signatures were collected online beginning July 25, after association president Colin Flynn and his wife, Marie, announced the petition in an e-mail to "Catonsville Friends."
That e-mail, which was forwarded July 25 to the Times, included a statement that Sheppard interpreted as misleading, and Colin Flynn described last week as "overly strong."
"We are not attempting to mislead anybody in anyway," Flynn said of the e-mail.
The statement in question read: "If these properties are changed to commercial zoning, any of the stores you find on Route 40 could replace the current structures."
An examination of Baltimore County's online zoning maps, however, showed that about 90 percent of the commercial properties fronting on Route 40 in Catonsville have more permissive commercial zoning than the small-scale commercial designation Witzke has requested for 9 and 11 Newburg Ave.
"Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to proofread it and I mistyped 'any‚' instead of 'many‚' in the sentence about Route 40 stores," Marie Flynn wrote in an Aug. 8 e-mail to the Times.
She noted sending a corrected version on July 25 that changed the statement to read: "If these properties are changed to commercial zoning, then in the future someone could replace these houses with the kinds of buildings and stores that you find on Route 40."
The Times did not receive the corrected version until Aug. 8.
The zoning Witzke has requested allows retail stores, restaurants, banks, taverns and medical clinics.
He would need special zoning relief to use the property as a carwash, service garage, hotel, motel, funeral home or theater.
He would not say what the plans are for those properties.
Newburg Neighborhood Association representatives testified March 4 before the Planning Board against Witzke's zoning request for 9 and 11 Newburg Ave.
In addition, they said they wanted both properties downzoned from residential office to strictly residential.
The Planning Board recommended that Witzke's request be approved, contingent on his reaching a restrictive agreement with the neighborhood association on how the properties could be developed.
At the County Council hearing for District 1 on June 18, a Newburg association representative testified that the agreement was still pending; Witzke testified that his attorney was working on it.
Last week, Witzke said he thought an agreement was "very close" to being completed.
He said he had agreed to prohibit the presence of a liquor store or tavern, a fast-food restaurant or a gas station.
"I am willing to file papers attached to the deed that certain things could never happen," he said.
"There is no agreement at this time," Colin Flynn said Aug. 8.
Earlier this summer, Moxley said he would accept written testimony on 1st District issues through the end of July.
Because of the apparent confusion surrounding the issue of 9 and 11 Newburg Ave., he probably would accept testimony through mid-August, Sheppard said.
Witzke's request was one of more than 570 that were filed last fall in Baltimore County's 2008 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.
Of that total, 62 requests, or issues, were aimed at properties in the 1st District, which includes Catonsville, Oella and part of Woodlawn, as well as Arbutus, Halethorpe, Lansdowne, Riverview and Baltimore Highlands.
Conducted every four years, the CZMP is the main process for changing allowed uses on properties in the county.
It includes a Planning Board hearing in each of the seven council districts, followed by a County Council hearing in each district.
The County Council, which has the final say, is scheduled to vote Aug. 26.
But it must have all issues decided and proposed as legislation beforehand.