Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller stands on the edge of her backyard and the golf course of the Chestnut Ridge Country Club. (Gabriella Demczuk, Baltimore Sun / June 25, 2012)

Tall, tangled grass grows on parts of the golf course at the former Chestnut Ridge Country Club. The buildings are locked. No one plays. The club closed last fall amid financial problems and a legal fight with former members.

Now, its sprawling land in Lutherville is the subject of another battle. Nearby property owners are asking the Baltimore County Council to protect the land, worried that a developer will damage the environment and clog local roads by building homes there.

"That green space, that stream valley was always an open space that this community knew as a golf course for nearly 60 years," said Howard Schulman, who lives on Broadway Road. "And now it's on the chopping block."

A firm associated with Timonium developer Cignal Corp. bought the country club land in February for $5.3 million, according to state property records.

The property off Falls Road is among several golf courses that officials are examining as the county reviews its zoning maps. On the southeast side of the county, the Sparrows Point Country Club might sell land for development. And County Councilman David Marks is considering a move to protect part of the Mount Pleasant Golf Course, a Baltimore City-owned property with a portion in the county. He worries that the land could someday be developed with apartment buildings.

"Whenever golf courses go out of business, people get concerned because they like the open space," said Teresa Moore of the Valleys Planning Council.

Her group wants Baltimore County to preserve the Chestnut Ridge land with a more restrictive zoning designation, arguing that development there would contradict the county's plan to protect its water resources. Chestnut Ridge's 232 acres is home to headwaters of Dipping Pond Run, a tributary of the Upper Jones Falls.

"A lot of the concern has to do with impacts to the run because it's already been severely impacted by other development in the area," Moore said.

The property's topography — with a high point of 610 feet — means development on the site would harm the run, which is the last stream in the Jones Fall Watershed with naturally reproducing brook trout, said Harold Burns, president of the Falls Road Community Association.

And "more impervious surface means more storm water," Burns said. "More storm water means more flooding."

Residents are writing letters to County Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond urging her to vote to rezone the land, and yard signs in the neighborhood advertise a community website, savefallsroad.org, that takes up the cause.

The land is zoned to allow at least 100 homes, but fewer houses would likely be built because of environmental restrictions. Residents are pushing for a zoning classification that would allow only about nine homes on the site.

The developer that bought the Chestnut Ridge land told country club leaders he planned to keep the property as a golf course, according to a letter Herb Weiner, the former club's president, wrote to members in January.

In December, Wells Fargo sold the financially troubled club's mortgage to CR Financial LLC, according to Weiner's letter. CR Financial is owned in part by Armando Cignarale of Cignal, the letter says.

No one from Cignal, a commercial and residential firm known for developing waterfront housing in Baltimore, returned messages seeking comment on the property. An attorney for CR Golf Club LLC, which is connected to Cignal, opposed any zoning change in a March letter to the county planning department.

"There is no justification for changing the classification of this property other than to prevent or reduce future development of the property to the benefit of neighboring property owners; this, in our opinion, is not an appropriate reason to exercise the rezoning authority," attorney Patricia Malone wrote.

Cignal's past projects include the Moorings at Canton and North Shore at Canton. The company also built La Estancia, a residential resort community that overlooks a P.B. Dye-designed golf course in the Dominican Republic, according to its website.

The county environmental protection department has changed its stance on recommending a zoning change for Chestnut Ridge. In a January memo, the department recommended a zoning designation that would restrict the number of homes that could be built there to less than a dozen to protect the land's aquatic resources.

The department indicated in the memo that the property's current zoning "raises certain environmental concerns but is generally consistent with the goals, policies and programs" of the department. The memo noted the trout population and water resources there.