Group Homes Must Resemble Homes

July 25, 1995

The Davidsonville residents who are upset about the impending expansion of a group home for the elderly in their neighborhood are not NIMBYs. They have a legitimate reason to complain.

Thanks to an egregiously liberal provision in Anne Arundel County's zoning law, the Kris-Leigh group home -- now a modest three-bedroom brick rancher -- is about to expand by 6,110 square feet to 18 bedrooms and 20 bathrooms. The finished facility will encompass more than 7,000 square feet in a community where the biggest home is about 3,000 square feet. Group homes are allowed in residential neighborhoods because they supposedly look like ordinary houses. But Kris-Leigh will look like an institution, not a home, when its huge dormitory wing is complete.

No one can do anything to stop this project. It's perfectly legal, and the permits have already been issued. But the County Council is changing the law to prevent oversized group homes in other communities.

The burgeoning elderly population makes the proliferation of such facilities a certainty. Already, another operator proposes a 7,000-square-foot group home in Severna Park.

The new legislation, sponsored by Councilman John J. Klocko III, R-Crofton, limits the number of occupants in a group home to 15 and reduces the percentage of lot space such facilities can cover. Before the council changed the law this month, group homes could take up a whopping 60 percent of a lot.

In contrast, residential homeowners living in Davidsonville's rural agricultural district can only take up 25 percent of their lots; even the county's densest residential zoning bars homes from occupying more than 40 percent of a lot. Under the new law, group homes are subject to the same lot coverage limitations as ordinary homes.

The changes, supported by County Executive John Gary's administration, will make sure group homes are fair and reasonable. Tough enforcement of the county's sign ordinance, which prohibits large, free-standing signs like Kris-Leigh's in residential districts, is also important.

The county is not trying to discourage group homes, for which there is a growing need. But a group home has to look like a home, not a commercial enterprise.

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