Presbyterian Home finds it hard to unwrap its 50-acre 'gift from heaven'

December 02, 1993|By Patrick A. Gilbert | Patrick A. Gilbert,Staff Writer

At first, the 50 acres of farmland in Mount Vista in northeastern Baltimore County seemed like "a gift from heaven." Now, eight years later, board members of the Presbyterian Home wonder if they'll be able to use the gift.

"Around that time, the board of directors of the Presbyterian Home was looking to build a retirement community somewhere away from Towson," said Fred M. Bryant, a board member. "The 50-acre farm seemed like a gift from heaven."

But county zoning regulations have made the gift a double-edged sword.

Aimee B. Foard, who along with her husband operated a 350-acre dairy farm along Mount Vista Road east of Harford Road, gave the land with the stipulation that it be developed as a retirement community.

The Presbyterian Home wants to build a 200-plus unit retirement community. But county zoning regulations require that continuing care facilities in the rural area have at least 450 acres.

Baltimore County has the highest number of senior citizens in the state and the second largest in the country after Dade County, Fla.

Development in the rural areas has become one of the most emotional issues in Baltimore County. Zoning for the rural areas and the county Master Plan, a guideline for land use in the county, both are geared toward limiting development in the mostly farming, less populated areas of the county.

The county Office of Planning and Zoning has recommended that the Planning Board refuse to adopt zoning to allow smaller retirement communities outside the Urban Rural Demarcation Line, or URDL, which marks the farthest extension of public water and sewer services.

The recommendation was in response to a 1992 County Council resolution asking the board to consider creating a new zoning classification for elderly housing in rural areas.

The Rev. Ron Standiford, pastor of White Marsh Presbyterian Church, said that Mrs. Foard, his great-aunt, wanted to provide a retirement home in the area so the elderly wouldn't have to leave the community for retirement centers, most of which are located around or inside the Beltway.

The legislation allowing a rural retirement community with a minimum of 450 acres was passed in the early 1980s, primarily so a home for retired nuns could be turned into a public retirement community now known as Glen Meadows. The 215-unit retirement community on 483 acres is the only large retirement home outside the URDL.

The county planning staff said communities like the one the Presbyterian Home proposed were not feasible using wells and septic systems, would change the rural area's character and might open the way for development in areas where the county wants to limit residential growth.

The Department of Aging's position is that it would be difficult to bring the kind of services to rural areas that the elderly need. The department also said retirement communities were better suited in the urban area.

According to the 1990 census, only 10 percent of the 88,037 senior citizens living in the county lived outside the URDL.

In 1988, the Planning Board, at the urging of the Presbyterian Home, recommended that a Planned Retirement Development be created for rural areas with a minimum lot size of 50 acres. Though this would have given the county greater design and development control over a project, the County Council rejected the recommendation.

The Presbyterian Board agreed to pay taxes on the property until the board takes title to the land, Mr. Bryant said. That won't be done until the board finds a way to build a retirement community.

Mr. Standiford said that there is no time limit on the gift but that the estate was not going to wait forever.

"We need to move on this by next year or we will be forced to sell the property," he said.

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