A controversial Catonsville home for the elderly has overcome strong neighborhood opposition and won long-sought zoning approval to house up to 15 people.
However, the battle is not over. Those opposed to the home have appealed a separate county development approval won by Brenda Walker, the home's owner. Neighborhood residents say that the home, located in the 2200 block of Pleasant Villa Ave., is a commercial venture and that traffic congestion will result from increasing the number of residents.
Steven McCleary, treasurer of the West Catonsville Community Association, said community residents will fight the zoning approval. If the decision is sustained, the zoning commissioner's action could be ". . . opening the door to something really bad," Mr. McCleary said. Opponents have 30 days to appeal.
The zoning decision specifically rejects the association's objections, saying that housing 15 elderly people in the home is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt also ruled that the home would not harm neighborhood property values, would not unduly increase traffic and would not be disruptive in any other way.
State and county government officials have cited the complex and expensive regulatory hurdles Ms. Walker faced as prime reasons to change county zoning laws. They want to make such homes easier to establish. Dr. Philip H. Pushkin, director of the county's Department of Aging, said his office supports the home and others like it. Though County Executive Roger B. Hayden's administration has considered changing county laws since last year, no changes have been proposed to the County Council. State and county officials concerned with senior citizens favor homes like Ms. Walker's because they provide a place for healthy elderly people who need help with food preparation and household chores. Living costs are cheaper, too: $1,200 a month compared with nursing home costs of $3,200 a month.
Ms. Walker's firm, which operates a similar facility in Baltimore, owns the renovated 1849 mansion once called "Rockwell." Her company, Lifespring Senior Housing Inc., bought the 1.3-acre property in 1991 and has been fighting for permission to expand the number of residents ever since. She currently may house up to six elderly people.
Though no exterior changes are planned, under current laws the home is considered to be a "new" development. Consequently, Ms. Walker had to get development approvals and a separate special zoning exception.