Baltimore County Council delays vote on assisted living homes for elderly

December 19, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

While supporters of assisted living homes for the elderly marshal their forces, the Baltimore County Council has postponed a scheduled vote Monday night on a bill that would ease restrictions on the facilities.

The measure's sponsor, William A. Howard 4th, R-6th, said he asked for two-week delay so he could mount a campaign to "educate" his six colleagues about the regulation of such homes. Mr. Howard wants to pass the measure intact at the council's Jan. 3 session.

"It's a good bill the way it is," he said.

Other council members want to limit the number of elderly people allowed in one home to nine or 10, instead of the 15 in the bill.

Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, said he will let groups, individuals and government officials present council members with more information on the homes after Monday's regular meeting.

Supporters surprised

"Conceptually, the votes are there to pass the bill," he said.

Opposition from council members worried that the homes would hurt their neighborhoods surprised supporters of the measure. Assisted living facilities are less expensive alternatives to nursing homes for seniors who aren't ill but need some help with everyday living.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, said a remark he made about the homes at Tuesday's council work session was reported out of context in The Sun. He said he does not oppose assisted living homes but is worried about the lack of government control over their location.

"In fact, I'm in favor of [homes for the elderly] being distributed around the neighborhood," he said.

He said he is concerned about concentrations of any type of group homes in residential neighborhoods. No noted that one residential block off York Road in central Towson contains eight three-person group homes for the handicapped.

Just how much control the county can exert is open to question. Officials told the council Tuesday that federal housing laws prohibit local limits on the placement of housing based on the type of occupants.

Robert J. Hunter, president of the Baltimore County Association of Senior Citizens Organizations, said he was personally "incensed" after reading Mr. Riley's remarks.

Members of his group will attend Monday's session to speak to the council, he said.

The bill would allow homes for up to 15 elderly residents without special zoning approval, if the house to be used needs no more than a 25 percent expansion. Construction of a new building or any expansion larger than 25 percent would require a special zoning exception, a slow, expensive process that includes a public hearing. Currently all assisted living homes require a special exception.

Senior citizens upset

As a result of its restrictions, Baltimore County, which has a large and fast-growing population of senior citizens, is the only large metropolitan subdivision in Maryland without an assisted living home for the elderly. About 140,000 people age 60 and over live in Baltimore County.

Dr. Philip H. Pushkin, director of the county Department of

Aging, said that since Tuesday's council discussion, he has spoken to many senior citizens who "are very upset, to say the least," at the unfriendly reception the bill received.

He said most of the questions and opposition were due to a "misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge" among council members.

A prime goal of advocates for the elderly is removal of zoning laws that have barred such homes, which, Dr. Pushkin said, are heavily regulated and inspected by state and federal governments.

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