Sixteen residences near Loch Raven Village are slated for demolition as the result of contamination from a nearby gas station.
One additional affected residence will be left standing but vacant because an attached residence remains occupied.
The Baynesville properties, part of duplexes located in the 1600 block of Yakona Road, could eventually become open space owned by a county land trust. All of the properties have some level of contamination from gasoline that originated from an independently owned Hess Gas Station on Joppa Road.
A lawyer for Hess confirmed the existence of a settlement but said the terms are confidential.
"Hess felt the best course to address these long running concerns was to demolish the affected residences, ensure the contaminated land is safe for use with [Maryland Department of the Environment] oversight and transform the land into an attractive public space that will be donated to an appropriate organization for maintaining such properties," said Jon Pepper, a spokesman for Hess.
Roy L. Mason, an Annpolis-based attorney who represents all 17 affected owners, confirmed the existence of a settlement but said the details were confidential.
The settlement and razing of the buildings, which could happen by spring 2013, would bring to an end a concern about petroleum contamination from the station that dates back to 1987, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Most of the contamination is related to fuel odors including some inside homes. Hess installed a pump and treat system to remove gasoline from the groundwater behind the homes and another system to extract the fuel vapors from the soil.
The pump and treat system was discontinued in 2010, according to state records.
Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the state environmental agency, said the department continues to monitor the situation.
"We're aware there has been some discussion about a settlement but we're not a party to the case," Apperson said, adding that the issue continues to be "an open case" for the agency.
"We're awaiting a report from [Hess]," Apperson said.
Because the homes are all on public water and sewer, the residents were not in danger of consuming fuel-contaminated water, Apperson said.
A number of the duplex homes, which date back to 1945, are already vacant.
One resident of an affected property, who declined to identify himself, said he was not allowed to discuss the settlement with Hess and referred a reporter to Mason.
Melvin Teal lives next door to one of the vacant homes.
"We didn't know anything until my neighbor moved out," said Teal, whose home backs up to the station.
The 44-year-old laborer said his home was also affected by the contamination.
"We got all the run-off," said Teal. "It just runs down hill into the yard and basement."
Teal said his basement "smelled so bad that you couldn't go down there to do laundry. There was an oil slick in the sump pump." He ended up digging a trench in the yard in an attempt to divert some of the storm run-off.
About a year ago officials from the Maryland Department of the Environment took samples from his basement, yard and sump pump.
"We've never heard anything." said Teal. "Nobody's told us anything."
Teal, who has lived in the home almost seven years, is not part of the settlement.
"We were told we missed out by five feet," said Teal. "Five feet—that's ridiculous."
Councilman David Marks, who has been working with Hess on the issue, said he understands that the duplexes will be demolished and turned into open space.
"This is a huge deal," said Marks. "The last thing we want is people in the neighborhood seeing these houses being demolished and wondering what is happening."
Once the land is cleared, the property could be turned over to NeighborSpace of Baltimore County, a non-profit organization that maintains open spaces, some times called pocket parks, in areas of the county inside the Beltway.
"We're a long way off from making a decision on this," said Barbara Hopkins, executive director of the land trust.
The organization currently manages about 36 acres of open space in more developed areas of the county. The properties are as large as a 14-acre parcel in Middle River and as small as a three-hundredths of an acre parcel off Stevenson Lane.
Most parcels run about one-quarter of an acre, Hopkins said.
The nearly four-acre parcel in Loch Raven Village, bordering Towson and Parkville, would be one of the larger parcels the organization has acquired.
"There's really no open space there," said Hopkins. "That's the ultimate interest for us but certainly there is some risk for us in taking control of the property."
Most of that concern centers around the presence of petroleum in the soil as well as related contaminants such as MTBE and benzene.
Apperson, the Department of the Environment spokesman, said those are examples of contaminants that could be found dissolved in groundwater, but he could not say either was present in the yards behind the Hess station.
"We're doing our due diligence," Hopkins said. "We want to know how much remediation can be done and can it be used as a park."
Hopkins said the organization will likely bring in a consultant to help them sort out the facts. The fact that the property has some contamination issues doesn't immediately mean the group is not interested, she said.
"As an urban land trust, in areas as densely populated as this, we're going to run into situations like this more and more," Hopkins said. "I don't think, in good conscience, we can walk away from this property because there is some sort of contamination."
"If someone says this land is really hazardous, we'd be less inclined to take it on," said Hopkins.