Synagogue condo project upsetting the neighbors Beth Tfiloh homes for elderly exceed normal zone limits.

January 27, 1992|By Larry Carson

A plan to build 102 expensive condominiums for the elderly along a wooded stretch of Old Court Road has aroused strong neighborhood opposition, including some from members of the Pikesville synagogue proposing the project.

The four midrise buildings would be built on a hilly tract that serves as the front lawn of the 28-year-old Beth Tfiloh synagogue and school.

Opponents are especially upset that the synagogue is taking advantage of a law designed to encourage construction of housing for the elderly by allowing more units than zoning normally permits. The law usually is used to build more affordable homes.

Beth Tfiloh's land is zoned for 84 units, but the plan calls for 102 condos, four townhouses, 255 parking spaces, a community building and a staffed security gatehouse. The condos and townhouses would sell for $250,000 each.

The law does not specify price limits on housing for the elderly, but the Pikesville Community Growth Corp. questions the use of the law to justify higher density for such expensive homes.

The organization, which has joined nine other community associations in opposing the project, has asked Baltimore County planners to re-examine the law to see if it should be changed, says Evelyn Burns, the organization's director.

Former County Council member Barbara F. Bachur, who sponsored the law in 1988, says she recalls no discussion then about the housing being only for low- or moderate-income residents. The idea, she says, was merely to spur more housing for the elderly, because their numbers are growing rapidly.

Profits from Beth Tfiloh's venture would be used to endow the Orthodox synagogue's 750-student school, which is a big money loser, according to Jacob Y. Miliman, chairman of the synagogue's board.

Beth Tfiloh attorney Julius Lichter says the condos would meet a need for housing near the synagogue. Also, elderly congregants could walk to services. Orthodox Jews must not ride on the Sabbath, according to religious law.

Mr. Miliman recalls that 28 years ago area residents opposed the synagogue's construction, too. People, he says, "don't like to see change."

Several neighbors who live near the site, in the 3300 block of Old Court Road, appeared at a county development approval conference Thursday to voice their unhappiness over the size of the proposed buildings and their effect on the neighborhood.

"The impact on traffic would be horrible," says Karen Teplitzky, a seven-year resident of the nearby Eden Roc neighborhood. She notes that Old Court Road is two lanes with no shoulders or sidewalks and that rush hour traffic already is heavy.

Edgar Flaks, a 30-year resident of Lightfoot Drive just across the road from the synagogue, says he already has problems turning safely onto Old Court during rush hour. "It's a nightmare around there now," he says.

Mr. Lichter argues that there will "be no impact on traffic" because the plan calls for widening Old Court Road to 40 feet in front of Beth Tfiloh, with separate new lanes for cars entering or leaving the property.

Another opponent, who says he belongs to the synagogue, says the dispute has not yet caused a rift within the membership, but he and other members are wary of offending one another and starting one.

The County Review Group, a two-member committee that must approve the concept of any new development, continued Thursday's approval conference until Feb. 13 to give the synagogue more time to work out a compromise with its opponents.

The project also would need planning board approval because its compatibility with the neighborhood has been questioned. In addition, the synagogue must get a special zoning exception for the extra units, as well as height and setback waivers. A separate public hearing is required for a special exception.

Richard Schaeffer, a lawyer for several community groups, says the first problem was the synagogue's failure to consult the community before announcing its plans. He expresses hope, however, that a compromise can be worked out.

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