Relay's residents push for fewer condos on tract

January 01, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

On the surface, the fight over plans to build condominiums on 24 acres of vacant land in old Relay seems simple.

Carl Julio wants to build 224 condominiums and call the development Hilltop Place. The Relay Improvement Association, which originally wanted the land turned into a park, now wants to limit Mr. Julio to building no more than 132 units.

The dispute is the latest in a series of battles over the land's eventual fate. The community and the developer both have had a frustrating, roller-coaster ride through the county's regulatory system. And the ride is far from over.

At a County Review Group meeting yesterday, several county departments requested changes in the plans. Both sides now seem destined to continue their fight through private negotiations, county bureaucratic hearings and, eventually, the courts.

In a sense, the community, led by Louise Vanderbeek, president of the Relay group, already has lost. Two years ago, they convinced the county to put a legal hold on Mr. Julio's initial plan to build 235 apartments on the land, located between U.S. 1 and Interstate 195, near Relay Elementary School.

The County Council agreed to hold the land for 18 months, thus giving them time to buy it and turn it into a park.

The county's 1989 Master Plan also recommends that the land, known to neighborhood kids as "The Pits," be used as a park.

Unfortunately for the residents, the recession dried up government money for parkland, and the county couldn't raise the $400,000 asking price. Private efforts also fell flat, with just $2,500 collected, including a $1,000 contribution from area Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st.

After the 18-month hold expired in late September, Mr. Julio asked for approval of his new plan for 224 two-level condominiums. But Mrs. Manley proposed a change in the land's zoning and the council approved it in November. The new zoning allows 132 new units to be built.

But it didn't end there. In a Dec. 3 letter to Mrs. Vanderbeek, county zoning administrator Arnold E. Jablon said the developer must be given 18 more months to go forward with plans under the old zoning. Mr. Jablon said this is because the county held Mr. Julio up for 18 months on a promise to buy his land. Forcing Mr. Julio to accept the new zoning wouldn't be fair, Mr. Jablon said, and could expose the county to legal damage claims.

Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, who is representing the community, -- already has appealed the 18-month zoning extension to the county Board of Appeals. He called Mr. Jablon's decision "inappropriate and illegal." County People's Counsel Phyllis C. Friedman also protested, saying she could find no legal authority for the 18-month extension of the old zoning.

If the residents can use various appeals to delay Mr. Julio for another 18 months, the new zoning would take effect, Mr. Jablon said.

During yesterday's meeting, Mrs. Vanderbeek, John Heinrichs, Glen Roberts and others said the local elementary school already is crowded and that traffic is bad on historic Relay's old, narrow streets.

If the park option was dead, they said, then the least the county could do was make Mr. Julio abide by the new zoning and build no more than 132 units.

Mr. Julio's plans call for eight to 10 condominiums per building. The two-bedroom units would be back-to-back on two levels and would be 1,200 to 1,400 square feet. The development also would have tot-lots, but no community building or other amenities for recreation, said project engineer Charles K. Stark.

"It looks like a 1970s-style development," said Mrs. Vanderbeek. "It's not compatible. He's offering the community nothing."

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