County board to vote on fate of historic home

March 06, 1995|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

A proposal to convert an Ellicott City historic home into offices, which has alarmed residents who fear their neighborhood will deteriorate, is scheduled to be voted on tomorrow night by the county Board of Appeals.

Housing developer L. Earl Armiger wants to move his company, Orchard Development Corp., from 3300 N. Ridge Road in Ellicott City to a two-story home in the 3900 block of Old Columbia Pike.

The house, a product from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, is on the county's historic sites inventory. If the county grants Mr. Armiger's request for a special zoning exception to locate a business in a residential area, up to eight employees would work in the four-bedroom house during the week and sometimes on weekends.

The Board of Appeals will vote on the matter during its work session at 7:30 p.m.

In February, the Planning Board recommended approval of the project under certain conditions, including not allowing customers on the site and termination of the special exception if the land is subdivided into more than five lots.

Neighbors worry that Mr. Armiger wants to develop the rest of the 7-acre property. Others fear that the project would lead to piecemeal development in their neighborhood.

"I'm concerned about Old Columbia Pike turning into an entrepreneurial zone," said Lee Davis, a 40-year resident. "Anything along Old Columbia Pike will be simply devastating to it."

During a Feb. 23 Board of Appeals hearing, about 10 neighbors attended to protest the project.

Some residents fear that the proposed office would lead to more businesses in their neighborhood.

"I'm very much afraid it's an opening for commercialism," said Eleanor Thompson, who has lived on Old Columbia Pike for 53 years. "I'm not against Mr. Armiger -- what he's doing he has a right to do -- but these special exceptions open up the pike to other businesses."

Old Columbia Pike has several businesses, including a funeral home, gas station and sandwich shop near Route 103, but residents said those businesses have existed for years and don't affect the neighborhood.

Others worry that Mr. Armiger will develop the rest of the property, which includes a large lawn.

"He's a builder," said Laura Bussard, a 39-year-old Westminster resident who grew up across the street from the proposed office. "His business is building, and that just doesn't sound too good."

But Mr. Armiger said he has no plans to develop the property and wants to maintain the house as a historic landmark.

"It's not my intention to develop it," he said during the Feb. 23 meeting. "It's not something I have planned."

To appease residents' concerns, Mr. Armiger and his attorney, Richard B. Talkin, met with about 20 neighbors last month. The developer shared landscape designs with neighbors and agreed to limit to eight the number of employees and parking spaces at the site to hold down congestion along Old Columbia Pike. Mr. Armiger also agreed not to post a sign in front of the house.

Some Board of Appeals members said that such conditions were unnecessary and would restrict Mr. Armiger from conducting many business activities.

"I think you're going overboard with the restrictions," board member George L. Layman told Mr. Armiger during the Feb. 23 meeting. "I think we ought to be more realistic. Let's make it as a business even though you want to keep it as a residential" property.

Despite their concerns, some neighbors said they are more willing to accept office space than a housing development on the land.

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