Hayden administration seeks a break for assisted-living homes for the elderly

December 20, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

After 13 months of discussion, the Hayden administration is asking the Baltimore County Council to make it easier to set up small, assisted-living homes for the elderly.

The council will vote tomorrow on an administration resolution asking the planning board to suggest changes in zoning laws to expedite approval for the facilities. Any zoning law change requires planning board study first.

Frank W. Welsh, director of community development, said Baltimore County is the only jurisdiction in the state with zoning laws that make it difficult to establish small-scale homes for the elderly. Currently, any such home with more than three people requires a special exception in a residential area.

The facilities are becoming more common as inexpensive alternatives for senior citizens who need some help in their daily lives but don't need to be in nursing homes, which often cost three times as much.

The owner of one such facility in a residential Catonsville neighborhood spent two years working through the complex zoning process to expand her home to accommodate 15 people. Neighbors opposed the expansion, on the grounds that the home was a business and would increase delivery truck and ambulance traffic on their dead-end street. They eventually withdrew their opposition.

Mr. Welsh, who supports changes, said the county could also add to its stock of affordable housing for young families if some elderly homeowners sell and move into assisted-living homes.

He favors allowing the homes for up to 14 people as a matter of right in the county, eliminating the special zoning exception now required for any home housing more than three unrelated persons. County planners have suggested a limit of eight people per home, a difference the planning board will now address.

The changes also have drawn support from the county's Department of Aging, as well as from state officials. Baltimore County's population is rapidly aging, and the number of people 65 and over in the county doubled between 1970 and 1990, according to census figures.

Assisted-living homes typically provide supervision 24 hours a day and all meals and laundry services, but not medical services.

Officials of County Executive Roger B. Hayden's administration agreed to work toward changes in November 1991, but nothing was proposed until last week.

Whatever changes the planning board proposes will likely encounter at least one opponent on the County Council -- Berchie Lee Manley, who represents Catonsville.

The 1st District Republican said Tuesday that she opposes placing assisted-living homes in the category of normal residential use and wants to keep the requirement that operators of such facilities seek a special exception.

She said that having homes for the elderly in Baltimore County will draw more elderly to Baltimore County and strain county services.

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