Columbia landlord battles on 2 fronts

February 20, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Richard Colandrea believes his infirm, elderly tenants are being discriminated against.

In the heart of Columbia, on one of the planned city's toniest streets, Mr. Colandrea is engaged in two conflicts.

In one, he is fighting with the county government to expand one of two houses on Waterfowl Terrace to accommodate 15 elderly residents, the state limit for such homes. Eight clients live there now.

On another front, Mr. Colandrea is battling the Village of Wilde Lake and the Columbia Association, to keep them from shutting down both group homes.

"I think I've been to the [village] architectural committee at least six times, and they've turned me down each time. They say that the use is not compatible with a high-quality residential neighborhood," Mr. Colandrea said.

But residents of the neighborhood say they aren't persecuting Mr. Colandrea or discriminating against the elderly or disabled. They just want him to play by the rules.

"I don't know of anyone in the neighborhood who objects to the concept; it is the numbers that we object to," said Christine O. Crable, who said she can empathize with the tenants because she is an older person with infirmities.

"One of his tenants walked into my daughter's home thinking she was there for dinner," she said.

With a single home of eight residents, which county zoning rules allow, the neighborhood could deal effectively and sensitively with such occurrences, Ms. Crable said.

The trouble with Mr. Colandrea's properties began about a year ago, he said, with a newspaper announcement that he was to receive a government loan to make his home more accessible to the handicapped. He then filed for architectural approval for an addition to his 11-bedroom home that would include a wheelchair ramp to the second floor. The request was denied by the village architectural committee.

The reason the village and the Columbia Association are taking him to court is a separate and simple matter, according to Jeanette Pfotenhauer, general counsel for the nonprofit association, which runs the unincorporated city's recreational programs and public services.

"He did not ask for permission to conduct in-home business," she said. "He has not been denied the right to have senior assisted living."

But Mr. Colandrea objects to the entire approval process.

"I don't think this should be considered a home business. These people are all disabled, and they're a protected class. That would be like saying all black people need a license."

Mr. Colandrea said discrimination is the only way he can describe his predicament.

"Why else would the Columbia Association, if they welcome these homes, sue to close a home over a simple form?"

Ms. Pfotenhauer said Mr. Colandrea received repeated requests that he file an application for approval as an in-home business and was given plenty of time to respond before the association sued him to force compliance with the village's covenants.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in county Circuit Court in August.

On Thursday, Mr. Colandrea lost an unrelated battle when the county Planning Board refused to grant him permission for the expansion to a 15-bed facility, citing a lack of adequate parking.

Although Mr. Colandrea and his attorney argued that residents of the home don't drive and don't create parking problems, one board member, Joan Lancos, said she visited the site and found a serious parking shortage.

"I don't know whose cars they were, but they were probably mine or my family's," said Mr. Colandrea, adding that he is one of nine children and has lived on the street for 26 years.

One problem for county planning and zoning officials, said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy planning and zoning director, was that his expansion proposal was short on specifics.

But Mr. Colandrea said he hasn't decided whether to challenge the board's ruling before the county Board of Appeals.

"I felt it was quite imposing when the board asked for what specific ailments [residents] have. This is a home that people come to when they're in need, not out of choice. I think the board needs to get a grip on what the home is all about. They don't understand at all what assisted living is," Mr. Colandrea said.

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