Neighbors are skeptical about elderly housing plan ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

February 04, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A Columbia couple have proposed building an elderly housing community on the site of the former Elkridge Drive-In. But some Elkridge civic leaders are lukewarm to the idea since the project would involve first constructing a Taco Bell to finance it.

The proposal from Barry Mehta and Dr. Charu Mehta raised concerns that once zoning was changed to allow the fast-food restaurant, the housing community might never be built.

"Mr. Mehta is seeming to propose something that's of good merit," said Craig Albright, president of the Elkridge Business Professional Association. "The problem lies as to whether everything will turn out."

The Mehtas proposed the Elkridge Care Center, a mixture of three elderly apartments, two nursing homes, retail and medical offices, and a community center containing a banquet hall, pool and gymnasium. The Route 1 site is next to the Elkridge Elementary School at 7075 Montgomery Road.

"We want to build a mini-Charlestown," said Mr. Mehta, referring to the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville.

Although some Elkridge residents have said they favor the Mehtas' concept of an elderly housing community, some also fear the plan won't come to fruition.

But the Mehtas said their plans are genuine. Dr. Mehta, a Baltimore geriatrician who also operates the Family Medical Center in Owen Brown Village Center, said her dream is to open an elderly housing community and nursing home.

"Basically, I'm interested in taking care of the elderly," Dr. Mehta said. "That's my goal, that's my aim, that's my dream."

Said Mr. Mehta, "If we wanted to make a quick dollar and develop townhouses, we could just sell it to a townhouse developer and leave."

The Mehtas say they need to rezone 1.2 acres of the 17-acre lot for the Taco Bell. That business would provide a quick infusion of capital to pay for initial costs of the housing development.

"Taco Bell will create a vehicle to develop the site," Mr. Mehta said.

Although the Elkridge Business Professional Association last month gave the couple's plan overwhelming support, an evenly split vote by the Elkridge Community Association last week reflected its lukewarm attitude.

"My concern is that we don't have a plan that's locked in," said Cathy Hudson, president of the community association.

The entire lot is currently zoned planned office research (POR), which allows banks, restaurants, nursing homes, elderly housing, laboratories and medical offices. The Mehtas need a B-2 general business zoning to build the Taco Bell.

Ms. Hudson said she is worried the Mehtas want to change the current regulations to include a fast-food restaurant, to reduce property setbacks from 50 feet to 30 feet, and to increase the definition of light manufacturing.

Barbara Wachs, executive board member of the Elkridge Community Association, agreed with Ms. Hudson. "There is nothing binding Barry Mehta from what he proposed," she said. "I'm concerned that if we give him B-2, the whole [Route 1] corridor will become B-2. It'll be like Route 40."

The county Department of Planning and Zoning has proposed changing the current zoning to a different category, which would allow eight town homes or apartments per acre.

With community support, the Mehtas said they hope to persuade the department to change that proposal.

But department Deputy Director Marsha McLaughlin said the county is unlikely to alter it.

"We will not change our formal petition," Ms. McLaughlin said. "We feel very strongly about not extending B-2 zoning along Route 1."

Ms. McLaughlin said B-2 zoning, which permits commercial sales and services such as auto repair, will hamper development of the lot.

"It sets a certain image to the property and nobody wants to use the back for anything," she said.

The Mehtas said they plan to present their proposal during a Zoning Board hearing on Tuesday.

Dr. Mehta said Elkridge desperately needs elderly housing.

"The population in Elkridge is aging, and for Howard County, particularly in that area, we don't have anything for the elderly," she said. "The elderly are shuffled from one end of the state to another."

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