Neighbors cool to fast food outlet But retirement center is welcome ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

September 27, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Charu and Barry Mehta, a Columbia couple, have gotten zoning approval for an estimated 500-resident, $30 million retirement community to be built on the site of the former Elkridge Drive-In on U.S. 1.

Some residents are against a part of the project that would include a fast-food restaurant, and they worry that the rest of the project might never be built.

In a work session Tuesday, the Zoning Board voted unanimously to approve the Columbia couple's request to rezone 1.2 acres of their 17-acre lot for a proposed Taco Bell.

The couple said they need the restaurant to provide a quick infusion of capital to finance the roads, utilities, and sewer and water pipes needed to support a housing complex for the elderly.

Mr. Mehta estimates that it would cost $300,000 to $500,000 for such infrastructure.

Construction would begin no later than 1995, he said.

Some residents are concerned that the Mehtas might simply build the fast-food restaurant and not the rest of the project.

"Everybody there is favorable of a retirement community," said Ray Miller, president of the Elkridge Community Association. "But there's no guarantee that the money will be used for that."

Residents also are reluctant to see another fast-food outlet on the section of U.S. 1 near Bonnie View Lane, which is dominated by trucking companies, industrial parks and warehouses.

"What we're trying to avoid is a strip mall," Mr. Miller said. "It would be nice if the project could go forward without B-2 [general business] zoning."

The Mehtas are proposing a complex to be called the Elkridge Care Center. It would consist of two or three apartment buildings for the elderly, a 200-bed nursing home or assisted-living facility, retail and medical offices, and a combined meeting hall and day care center for the elderly.

Most of the project would be built by health care or property management companies that deal with housing for the elderly. Those companies would lease land from the Mehtas.

The exception would be the day care center, which the Mehtas want to build and operate themselves.

"We would simply make the land available to companies that do this type of business," Mr. Mehta said. "We would coordinate development; we would have architectural control."

Associated Catholic Charities and Shelter Development Corp. Limited, a Baltimore-based property management, investment and lending business, have expressed interest in developing the apartment buildings, Mr. Mehta said.

He said he and his wife "have every intention of doing the plan."

Two months ago, the couple opened a day care center for the elderly in Catonsville. They hope their efforts there will convince people that they are sincere about building a retirement community.

"They see it happening," said Dr. Mehta, a geriatrician for 10 years. "They see us doing it."

The Mehtas say the retirement community would benefit Elkridge residents.

"This will be very close to their own homes," said Dr. Mehta, who said the housing for the elderly in Columbia is too far away for most senior citizens in Elkridge.

According to the 1990 census, about 16,700 senior citizens live in Howard County, and that number is expected to grow.

"Our elderly population since the early '80s has increased substantially," said Duane St. Clair, assistant administrator for community services in the county's Office on Aging.

By 2000, he estimated, the county will have about 25,700 senior citizens. Low-rent apartments for the elderly are needed in Howard County to supplement those in Columbia, Mr. St. Clair said.

"For a lot of elderly people, it's the only housing option that they have left," he said.

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