August 27, 2008

Newburg Avenue

Yesterday the Baltimore County Council voted on my two properties on Newburg Ave. The actual houses are being down zoned from RO to ROA. The County Council also voted to increase the zoning on the rear portion of these properties to BL-CCC, the same zoning that the rest of Strawberry Fields carries. The zoning change on the rear of the property should not be of much immediate concern, to anyone, because we already had approval to move forward with plans to build our parking lot.

I know that the Councilman put forth his best effort to make a decision that would be the best one for the most people. His decision was obviously influenced by the many misinformed people that contacted his office asking him to "Save the Muir House", he must have felt that this is what the public wanted. I know that I wanted to see the house saved!

How could this dastardly developer. demolish these houses to build a .... (Insert here - any number of the lies that were spread about my intentions)?

In Reality, the Muir House was saved two years ago when we bought it. You see the property was marketed as commercial and several developers were interested in buying it with the intention of tearing it down and building something like a strip center. We always intended to protect this house and our actions have clearly demonstrated that.

Our sole purpose for our zoning request was to obtain different financing so that we could enhance the beauty of the 2 properties on Newburg Ave. with new landscaping and exterior cosmetic improvements. We wanted to create a beautiful gateway to our historic residential neighbors. (The inside of both of these properties have received many renovations since we acquired them.)

To prove our intentions, we were willing to enter into certain restrictive covenants that would protect the future of these properties for many years. The self appointed leaders of the NNA were ridiculous and wanted to control every little detail of my project, with unlimited time restraints. This was impossible to agree upon since technology increases so rapidly these days, that, prohibited uses today could be completely desirable in 20 yrs.The representatives from the NNA also wanted the covenants assigned to themselves personally, which meant that if they were to move, they would still be in control. I simply could not agree to their outrageous requests.

In an act of Shear Frustration, I had my attorney propose that I place 9&11 Newburg Ave in the Newburg Ave. Association and let the board draft whatever covenants they wanted to, as members of the association these properties would have to abide by their rules. This meant that if they said no businesses could operate on Newburg Ave., we would have to comply. The problem was that there are already several businesses operating out of houses on Newburg Ave. That are not allowed under their current zoning. (At least one Contracting Company, a daycare provider, a Steel Fabrication Company, a Sign Manufacturing Company, a T-Shirt Printing Company, a Music Recording Studio, Multiple Music Instructors and several other businesses) The Association did not want rules that would apply to any of these businesses ONLY MINE.

The Members of the NNA stated many times that they were not trying to attack me personally; they said they actually liked the improvements that we have made so far. They said that they were concerned about future owners of the property and what they may decide to use the properties for.We tried for Months and Months to agree on which Restrictive Covenants to place on the entire property, but their real intentions were never to reach an agreement, their real motivations were to strip the houses at 9 & 11 Newburg of the appropriate zoning that they have carried for longer than anyone has been able to verify.

The end results are:

Any property owner on Newburg Ave can still request a zoning change during the comprehensive zoning process every four years. Future owners of the properties at 9 &11 will not be excluded from this process as they would have by the covenants I had recommended we put in place.

I will not be able to move ahead with the refinancing plan, improvements to the facades of 9&11 Newburg Ave will be temporarily delayed.

The businesses that occupy these buildings will be able to stay legally and other professional tenants will be able to replace them when they leave.

Thousands of dollars were wasted on legal fees, money that should have gone directly into landscaping and other improvements.

We now have a Neighborhood that has been divided, due to a few individuals’ personal crusades.

The Neighborhood would have been better served if the directors of the Association would have been willing to reach an agreement.

Feelings have been hurt and neighbors are reluctant trust one another.

The leadership of the Newburg Neighborhood Association did nothing to "Maintain and Improve" the quality of life (as their web site proclaims) in Catonsville. They only created fear, anger and hard feelings among many residents of this great town. We deserve better than that.


I have offered my opinion about the short term affect of this zoning decision and the longer term results of the actions of the NNA. .

The Newburg Ave. Association appears to be very pleased with the results of the vote, I guess they feel that the ends justify the means: Here is an excerpt from their website:

Thank You Catonsville
Thank You Councilman Moxley
Thank you Catonsville for responding to our call for support. Over 500 of you joined us in calling on Councilman Moxley to protect our residential community from commercial encroachment.
At the August 26th County Council meeting, the Council voted unanimously to accept Councilman Moxley's motion to down-zone the houses at #9 and #11 Newburg Avenue to ROA and to up-zone the parking lot in their backyards to BL-CCC.
ROA zoning restricts the houses to residential or office use only, and gives substantial protection to maintaining the original structures. While this does not apply to the entire property, it is a significant move to support our request - which was to protect the historic structures and maintain the residential character of Newburg Avenue.
Thank you Councilman Moxley for hearing the voices of the community and taking positive action to protect the beautiful, historic community of Catonsville.


Anonymous said...

In response to this post, I could not let several of the misrepresentations put forth go without comment. It seems that the Councilman read the situation accurately and deserves many thanks for his insight and action. Of course, 500 petition signers will get one’s attention.

The “dastardly developer’s” intentions were never the issue because his true intentions were, and still are, unknown. But here I’ve been drawn into it being about him again. Zoning is about the property use, not the integrity of the owner. Being the savvy developer, I would be shocked if the owner bought the property without knowing the current zoning and the restrictions that zoning entailed. Not being able to agree to protective covenants reveals more about the intentions of the owner than the neighborhood association. The new down zoning does not significantly alter the uses of the property from its previous zoning. It does provide protection for the structures not previously afforded to them which is what the Association wanted in the first place but could not have expected to get by down zoning. We figured that was a lost cause. That was the reason to try and provide protective covenants.

The certain restrictive covenants the owner resisted have nothing to do with rapidly advancing technology unless there will be a way to silently empty a dumpster at 3 in the morning or a way to control light particles 10 feet after they leave the bulb. To illustrate the fast pace of technology, the owner had to go back “120 years” in a previously published article, regarding automobiles not being invented so parking on Frederick Road was not a problem people could anticipate complaining about.

The original restrictions proposed by the owner would have expired in 2013, a mere 5 years, as noted in the August 1 posting. Then the lawyers got involved and proposed a 20 year period. This period is less than the standard 30 year home mortgage. 20 years starts to look very short if you love your home and neighborhood and want to live the rest of your life in this community. This may be why I always hear that people have lived in Catonsville all their life and their children live here too. The developer himself is a product of this community pride.

I am not familiar with the assertion that the developer proposed placing the properties in the Association. The Association did not want the properties joining the group because it did not want to be in the business of telling people how their property should look or what they could do on their property within the restrictions of residential zoning. We are not as they say "The People’s Republic of Columbia."

The members of the Association could not have hoped to get the properties down zoned or else there would have been no need to try and get restrictive covenants. Only after the owner stalled for several months and then went on vacation did the Association scramble to get a petition together to show Councilman Moxley that the Community wanted our beautiful street protected. The Community realized that if they didn’t stand up for us, rezoning could happen to them next.

The Owner continues to make this issue about him and cannot separate himself from the issue of zoning and property usage. I can see there is a certain amount of pride to be taken in creating something valuable and enduring. I’m sure the developers along Route 40 felt the same way about their projects but I wouldn’t want to live next door to them.

The end results are:

“Future owners at 9 and 11 will still have to go through the zoning process.” Thank goodness because the covenants the owner proposed would have expired in 5 years leaving the neighborhood subject to the mercy of future owners with a business zoning in hand allowing incompatible uses to extend well up our street.

“I will not be able to move ahead with the refinancing plan, so improvements to the facades of 9 and 11 Newburg Ave will be delayed.” Fine, in the meantime, keep up the properties. We can wait until you find other financing.

“The businesses that occupy these buildings will be able to stay legally and new professional tenants will be able to replace them when they leave.” Super. I’m sure the existing tenants are relieved to know the owner will not buy out their lease, demo the buildings and sell the property to the highest bidder.

“Thousands of dollars were wasted on legal fees…” I’m sure the members of the Neighborhood Association, formed specifically to fight this zoning change, had nothing better to do with their money like continuing to raise their children, fixing up their homes and paying their bills.

“We now have a neighborhood that has been divided, due to a few individuals’ personal crusades.” Nice try. It was the developer who tried to divide individual houses and the community he professes to unite. The owner does not realize that his actions have brought the neighborhood together. The neighbors actually had to talk to each other more than to just say hello. We had some fun at those great meetings and the leaders of the Association should know they have our gratitude and trust. Additionally, we could not have dreamed we had the power we had and thanks to Councilman Moxley, our neighborhood will continue to look like the jewel of Catonsville that it does. That is assuming the owners of 9 and 11 Newburg Avenue maintain their end of the block.

Anonymous said...

The anonymous poster that left this message at 2:10am this morning obviously was close to the negotiations. This person cannot accept what they created. Why continue to spread lies? Does the ability to do it under the shroud of anonymity just make it too tempting?

Again, my true intentions were made clear from the start. REFINANCING and improve the properties, by rehabbing them. No one from the association could understand this; they have never taken on the kind of risk that calls for this type of investment.

Until the association hired an attorney, I agreed that the covenants were to run forever, it was their counsel that brought to the table, many additional restrictions and also suggested that they terminate in the future. Yes, it is true, with no guidance to what the association expected, I asked for 5 years in the first draft. Amazingly I was not given a counter offer - they just started to create fear with lies about my intentions. I did eventually agree to 20 yrs. But then they wanted automatic renewals in perpetuity. I have always agreed to require my contractors restrict trash removal and deliveries to a tighter schedule than the county allows.

I am glad that the poster had "Fun" during this process. It is unfortunate that it was at my expense. If I was the catalyst that caused the neighborhood to start talking and have meetings, I am concerned and I must ask who will they after next. With thinking that is from the 1800's maybe a name more appropriate than association would be "Lynch Mob”.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Witzke,
Kudos to you for publishing a decenting opinion on your blog!
Maybe with this behind us for now we can move on and work together to help make our neighborhood even better! Many thanks for all the work you have already done and so diligently continue to do! In my opinion your vision for our quaint little village is right on the mark. Do you have any ideas on how we can save the Hilton flower shop building? It seems to be slipping into serious disrepair.
It would be a shame to let such a prominent example of historic architecture slip away from our charming main street.
Again,Many Thanks! And keep up the good work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Craig W. said...

Thank you for your positive comments about our work! Our heart is still in this project, although it has been a little wounded.

Re The Flower Shop: I have spoken with the owner about what his plans are and how we can help him out. He does intend on making some improvements. The question is...Is the building structurally sound and can it realistically be renovated? Be careful what you wish for. I for one would rather have the Flower Shop there, existing as it is, than the boarded up vacant building it could become if the wrong people decide to focus their efforts on him.

There are many properties in Catonsville, both commercial and residential, that could use a facelift. But, we are in America and property owners do have the rights.

In the future it would be much better if specific busineses or indivdiduals are not picked on here (unless they really deserve it!) Craig

Anonymous said...

Mr. Witzke-

Why did the Newburg Group put the petition back on their blog? Are the signs going back up next?

As a realtor in the area I can tell you that the neighbors should be very pleased with their results. Protecting the houses along with the improvements on Frederick Rd will only make the community more desirable and increase home values. Keep up the good work! DB

Craig W. said...

Thanks for pointing out that the petition is back up on the Newburg Avenue blog. I don't know why Mr. Totaro posted it after the President of the association said, in the Catonsville Times, that they took it down.

This is a perfect example of how our entire negotiations went. Once they get what they want, they want more. But, they don't explain what else they want or why they are not happy with what they got.

I think this quote, left on this blog, from one of the board member's sums it up perfectly. "The neighbors actually had to talk to each other more than to just say hello. We had some fun at those great meetings."

They got the houses down zoned and now someone is having a difficult time dealing with the empty dates in their social calender! Craig W.

Anonymous said...

Craig - this message is for you- post it if you would like however.
I am not involved in this situation - but do know the people who are.
I do not believe - judging from what you have accomplished so far - that you would do anything detrimental to the character of Catonsville.
As you are well aware Catonsville has a very small town attitude. If one of us feels threatened - we circle the wagons and start shooting.
You have flunked the "likability" test. I have no idea how you are in person - but on these blogs you come across in a very bullying - threatning way and it makes people wary of you.

My advice to you is to back off and BE NICE! Offer an olive branch - maybe have a conciliatory wine and cheese event at the houses on Newburg for the community. A "lets put this behind us and move on event". Give it some time - but STOP reacting on the blog!!

Anonymous said...


Just wanted to say I enjoyed your blog and that my husband’s mother (who passed away this April) was a Keidel who lived in Catonsville . She lived on the corner of Edmondson & Ingleside and I believe her family had a hardware store there. She told me many stories of her childhood there and she had a wonderful little book that her uncle had made personally for her with drawings of the family and their life in Catonsville . I just thought it was interesting, perhaps since you are the fourth generation in the area your family may have known her. Again, enjoy your information and your obvious love of the area. I love old homes and Catonsville has many nice ones.

Dottie Hicks

35+ years experience in Maryland & Pennsylvania

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

14237 Jarrettsville Pike
Phoenix , Md. 21131
410-329-6099 home office


Anonymous said...

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On the Lighter Side!

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