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Carving Out A Community

     
  Barbara Pash; MARCH 09, 2001 Pikesville  
  Developer Steven S. Koren is turning the Greenspring Quarry into a lakeside neighborhood.

A short walk brings you to a trailer on blocks where, since the Greenspring Quarry closed on Dec. 31, 1999, caretakers shelter from the cold. The parking lot where the trucks used to assemble is empty. All is quiet at the scale system, crushing plant and screening station, where boulders became rocks, rocks became stones, and stones became pebbles.

The rutted dirt road from the trailer to the plant is filled with ice. More dirt roads snake back through the 258-acre site. In the distance, the hills are covered with trees, most of them bare of leaves. Nothing stirs, not even a bird.

The quarry isn't immediately visible. You have to walk along the path, then jog to your left. And there it is, a dramatic 500-foot-deep, 40-acre-wide, oblong-shaped hole in the ground. In the middle of winter, with seeping water freezing in sheaths along the craggy black sides, it looks like the gaping mouth of an earth-dragon breathing ice, not fire.

In the not-too-distant future the quarry will become a lake. Around it will be shops and offices, a public park. The hills will be lined with homes — just like the rows of townhouses and condos on the hills across the street, on the east side of Greenspring Avenue.

There's no doubt the Greenspring Quarry project will have an impact on Pikesville. Expectations are high for an upscale, quality development on the last raw tract of this size in the community, and one of the few such tracts left in Baltimore County.

The project isn't big enough to become a "town center" for Pikesville, as the proposed development of the metro station in Owings Mills is being touted, says County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, whose 2nd District encompasses Pikesville.

But "it could be a shining jewel for Pikesville," Mr. Kamenetz says, a "stabilizing factor" for the community and a "spin-off factor" to attract outsiders.

David Uhlfelder, past president of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and chair of its zoning committee, agrees. In his opinion, there is no "downside at all" to the project, as long as issues like the environment, schools and traffic are addressed. And, given the close monitoring by several government agencies and the community, he's sure they will be.

"The more residential development in Pikesville, the better," says Mr. Uhlfelder, visions of future shoppers dancing in his head. "And if the lake has recreational uses, that'll be a real attraction" far beyond Pikesville.

But before any of that happens, the land has to meet environmental standards on three levels — county, state and federal. So far, Steven S. Koren, the project's developer, has a Baltimore County-approved land reclamation plan, a state Department of the Environment-approved mining reclamation plan, and permit requests under review by the state Department of the Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps is responsible for streams and wetlands; the state department, water quality. Since quarrying operations ended, the quarry has begun to fill naturally. It now has about 130 feet of icy water.

Mr. Koren wants to speed the process by diverting streams on the property into the quarry. Or, as he contends, reverting them to their original paths that miners had altered over the century-plus of the quarry's operation. The main stream on the property is Moore's Branch, which feeds into the Jones Falls.

According to Abbie Hopkins, project manager for the corps' Baltimore District, its concern is the impact of stream diversion, both on-site and downstream off-site. The age of the quarry and a stream's historic paths don't matter, she says. "We look at the impact on the stream now."

Ed Larrimore, project manager for the mining program at the state Department of the Environment, says the quarry's water temperature and a few other minor points are under discussion.

The developer needs approval from both agencies. Ms. Hopkins is non-committal, noting that the review process has just started. Mr. Larrimore is more positive.
It won't be "overly difficult to resolve these issues," he says, allowing the project to proceed.


The Developer

Koren Development Co. Inc. is based in a boxy office park off Route 70 in Columbia, Md. Heavy glass doors open onto a reception area that leads, down a hall, to the office of Steven Koren, head of the company that has been retained by The Arundel Corp. to develop its two quarries in Baltimore County — Greenspring Quarry, in Pikesville, and Delight Quarry, in Owings Mills.

An engineer by training, Mr. Koren, a youthful-looking 61, isn't wearing a suit and tie. Instead, in work boots and casual shirt, he looks ready to field-inspect one of his projects, although it's too soon for that.

So early in the process is the Greenspring Quarry that Mr. Koren is reluctant even to discuss it. When he finally agrees, he candidly provides information but cautions that much of it is preliminary and can change as the situation demands.

Mr. Koren tends to talk in understatements, reluctant to sound as if he's making promises he may not be able to keep. For example, the land reclamation is a "fairly significant" operation, he says of a job that will require moving 1 million yards of dirt on-site, "hopefully only once!"
Similarly, the future 40-acre lake will be "a little bigger" than Lake Kittamaqundi. Come again? OK, he relents with a laugh, "significantly bigger." Actually, at half the size, the Columbia amenity comes off looking like a glorified duck pond.

In 1999, Greenspring Quarry ceased operation in accordance with an agreement signed in 1984 between Arundel and neighboring property owners and community groups. In return for the quarry's end as a business venture, they agreed to support its development as long as the specified mix of residential and commercial zoning was followed. They also agreed to support the county legislation that vested the zoning.

At the time, Arundel owned 363 acres on the east and west sides of Greenspring Avenue. The 1984 agreement allowed a total of 1,069 housing units, divided between 757 units on the 271-acre west side and 312 units on the 92-acre east side.

The east side was subsequently developed as the Greenspring East townhouses. In 1998, a 13-acre parcel on the west side was developed as the Enclave II individual houses. Both of these communities are separate from the current Greenspring Quarry project. In 1987, Florida Rock Industries, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based company, bought the Baltimore-based Arundel as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Greenspring Quarry's timetable depends on how quickly the land reclamation and the lake transformation take. Since the quarry closed, Mr. Koren has been busy obtaining the necessary approval and, at this point, is ready to begin the land reclamation.

He hopes to finish that by the end of 2001, then initiate the several-step county development process. Mr. Koren won't be pinned down to a date but others familiar with the project mention a 10-year-long development process, meaning completion of the project by around 2010.

Mr. Koren does say that the lake and the development can "blend together." In other words, the project will probably be built in stages, and could proceed as the quarry fills. First to be built would be those parts at the edge of the site. However, he would prefer the lake be substantially filled before building those parts around its perimeter.

The land reclamation's goal is to bring the site back to as natural and safe a condition as possible. The steep slopes will be modulated; transitions between areas, some of which are now unreachable, will be created.

The job is made harder by the fact that the quarry dates to the post-Civil War era and the environment was hardly an issue then. "If you designed a mine today, you'd begin with a reclamation plan," he says.

The centerpiece of the development will be the lake. When filled, it will be the deepest in the state. Talk of a sand beach and non-power boating activity (sunfish and paddleboats), a nearby swimming pool and a fitness club floats in the air.

In reality, the lake is the best, perhaps the only, solution for the quarry. Mr. Koren acknowledges as much. Owings Mills New Town was supposed to have a lake. It was going to be created by damming a wooded area — until the Corps of Engineers scotched the idea. In contrast, the quarry's lake is "filling a hole in the ground," he says of the mini-Grand Canyon in the midst of Pikesville. The lake turns a negative into a positive.

If given permission to divert streams on the property to the quarry, as requested, he figures the quarry can fill within four to eight years. If not, he won't hazard a guess although one observer has heard an estimate of 11 to 12 years.

How high does the quarry have to fill? That's a design question Mr. Koren can't answer. Unlike a "natural" lake —formed by nature and surrounded by a uniform edge — the quarry rim varies in elevation from 340 to 490 feet. The future lake will have a level in accord with the reclamation plan.

Mr. Koren launches into engineer-speak. He talks about hydrologic devices, to ensure that the downstream flow is never less than its current level. He describes construction of a cold-water discharge, to improve the quality of the water that now has an abnormally high temperature and, consequently, a high bacterial count (the result, he suspects, of area homeowners' septic systems). He mentions a flood safety gate, to electronically control the downstream flow.

For people in the immediate vicinity who are on private wells and septic systems, these engineering projects will have "no negative impact," he assures. And, such is Mr. Koren's reputation that community activists express confidence in his ability to solve the environmental issues.

Once the development process starts, Mr. Koren will have a better idea of the exact mix of housing. Capped at 599 units under the 1999 agreement with the county, it will be a combination of single-family houses, townhouses and condominiums — mostly the latter two because of the zoning designations on the site.

The 1999 agreement did not affect the project's commercial portion, which was set in the 1984 agreement at 60,000 square feet of retail space, 287,500 square feet of office space and a 125-room inn.

A small section of the quarry property near Lightfoot Drive will be developed separately, 20 or so single-family houses that will not be connected by road to the quarry development but will be counted as part of the 599 housing total. The only entrance to the quarry development will be on Greenspring Avenue.

Mr. Koren has committed 22 acres of "public open space" to the county south of the lake near Greenspring Avenue. It is likely to become a "passive" park with amenities like walking paths for the Pikesville community.

He also has been asked to consider selling additional acreage to the county or state, reportedly at the corner of Greenspring Avenue and Old Court Road. This area is earmarked for townhouses and selling it, he says, would affect the overall design of the project. However, he doesn't rule out the possibility.

It's too soon to talk about builders for the project, although all the builders in the region know about it and have expressed interest. Mr. Koren is considering using different builders for the different residential and commercial "products." County design guide- lines will govern the project's "look." But within those parameters, he envisions a variety of architectural styles, with landscaping and signage providing continuity.

"We have the opportunity to create something that's unique not only to this county but to the region," Mr. Koren says.

A lot of people are hoping he's right.

   
   
 

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