控える is special. It can be used both an intransitively as well as a transitively.
As for 控える: It comes with few different senses that may not seem similar. The relevant sense is listed in dictionaries as transitive:
Perhaps its basic meaning could be explained as "keeping sth. inside"※※.
Let's take a look at its usage:
双方の言い分を聞くまで判断を控えます. I will suspend judgement until I have heard both sides
Think "keep judgement within my my mind, not letting it out"
たばこ[酒]を控える refrain from smoking [drinking, alcohol]
Think "keep the urge/desire/wish to smoke within myself"
糖分[塩分]を控える avoid taking too much sugar [salt]
Think "keep within a certain limit (or common sense)."
The "locative" use:
北に琵琶湖を控えた土地 an area which has Lake Biwa behind it to the north
lit. "keep/possess Biwa as (a special or worthy-to-mention-now) part to the north". Note that English does pretty much the same: "Have Biwa to the north".
The English translation could be rephrased as:
His country cottage【subject】
a moutain【direct object】
This should (I hope) make the transitive usage easier to relate to for English speakers.
※ The word combination を背後に広がる is possible, but as in
The hotel is to the back, the beach is what stretches out.
※※ Mnemonic. This is my attempt to help you understand the different senses. I do not claim it actually means that, nor am I aware of its etymology.