Lafarge Planned Unit Development
On April 1, 2023, We The People - Baltimore County submitted comments to county government regarding the planned unit development on the property known as the Lafarge Quarry site. Below are those comments.
Comments on Middle River Park Planned Unit Development
PAI Number: 15-1027
Date: April 1, 2023
To: County Executive John Olszewski, Jr.; Councilmember David Marks Jerry Chen; Essex Middle River Civic Council President Bob Bendler
Delivered Via Email
On September 6, 2022, the Baltimore County Council voted in favor of Resolution 39-22 to approve the Planned Unit Development (“PUD”) of the Lafarge Quarry site in Middle River (Councilmembers Cathy Bevins, Julian Jones, Wade Kach and Tom Quirk voting in the affirmative and Councilmembers Todd Crandell, David Marks and Izzy Patoka voting in the negative).
The Lafarge Quarry is located among the rapidly developing and redeveloping areas of Middle River, White Marsh, Nottingham, Greenleigh and rural areas of Baltimore County’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline. The quarry site is 454 acres (a football field is a little less than an acre and a half), and, despite being in the early phases of reclamation, it is flourishing with wildlife attracted to the 25-acre lake, wetlands, forest and vegetation.
More and more people from the rest of the County are discovering the beauty and interests on the eastern portion of the County. This site provides the unique opportunity to do something exciting given its location, characteristics and supportive local communities.
Improper Use of the PUD Process
Because the County still employs Euclidean zoning, where each parcel of the County is zoned for a single purpose (like residential, commercial and so on), the County has allowed the use of PUDs, which supersede Euclidean zoning and facilitate the development of mixed-use properties, so that people can live, work, learn and play all in the same area.
However, the development that is proposed for the LaFarge Quarry site consists of only industrial and warehouse space, meaning it is not necessary to employ a PUD. Nonetheless, by using the PUD process, which seeks to streamline development review, the County Council has been able to reduce the amount of community input otherwise present to help guide the future use of this site.
The impact of this was felt strongly on February 23, 2023, when the County was required to hold the only “Community Input Meeting” for the PUD. Hundreds of community members came out to express their discontent with the project as proposed. This meeting evidenced that there is a right and proper way to assess the future use of this site, and it is not by leaving the community out of the process.
Issues with the PUD
1. Legal. The PUD regulations do not allow PUDs on rural zoning, and a portion of the LaFarge Quarry site is zoned RC-8 rural. So, before a PUD is even considered here, the legal issue of determining whether and how that portion of the property can be developed needs to be determined.
2. Planning. In order to determine what the appropriate land-use for the site should be, the time-tested and customary use of our Development Review and Approval Process, which Baltimore County residents and businesses have come to expect and rely on, should have been employed. This process should not be circumvented by the PUD.
Because the standard process was not used, the following issues arose:
a. Lack of Community Input. The County convened an advisory task force and drafted a report in February 2022, in which three potential scenarios were proposed for the LaFarge Quarry site. However, the report and these scenarios were never vetted with the community, which is a critical step. The land-use scenarios need to be reviewed and a preferred scenario selected before implementation of a PUD is even considered. Notwithstanding this, Councilmember Bevins simply introduced via legislation a PUD for the scenario she preferred, and Council President Jones’s response was simply to say “the councilperson knows what is best for the community.”
b. No Traffic Study. Route 40/Ebenezer Road is already a failing intersection and Ebenezer Road and Earls Road are both rural in nature and design. The impact of the material increase in truck traffic guaranteed by this PUD has not been studied in any deliberate way. As a result, neither the County nor the community understands the extent of any needed road improvements, including the cost to improve the existing roads.
3. Environment. The reclamation of a 400+ acre mining site in this particular location is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that requires a larger scale planning effort to identify the uses that are best for the Middle River communities, the region and the County writ large. Under no circumstance should the site’s future use be discussed in small increments without a comprehensive study of the area or the benefit of the new masterplan. The larger view is even more important as other large redevelopment sites are nearby such as the Lockheed Martin site and the ongoing development area of Greenleigh. Optimal outcomes for environmental protection, economic development and the quality of life in the surrounding communities can only be expected when all land areas in question work in synergy and are closely coordinated.
Unfortunately, the County finds itself in a similar position, where a PUD process was used where it should not have been, where councilmembers deferred to the proposed councilmember’s preferred scenario when they should not have, and where the community has largely been cut out.
There is an equitable way to assess the future land-use of this site and it is not by leaving the community out of the process.
As a result, We The People request that the County Council not proceed with the Lafarge PUD application. Furthermore, we request that the County Executive and County Council convene a task force to make recommendations on how to improve our PUD Process.