Residents of the Ridgeway neighborhood in Severn say they have nothing against Habitat for Humanity's good works, they just don't want the nonprofit organization to put housing in their neighborhood.
They say the four proposed Habitat homes would eliminate open space, cause environmental problems, drag down property values and contribute to overcrowding at Ridgeway Elementary School. They also question whether the homeowners would take care of their property as well as other area residents do.
"I'm certainly not against this project," said George Coates, who has lived in the neighborhood for 31 years and is concerned about how the homes would affect the environment. "I just wonder if this is the right place for it."
Jeanne Martin, whose family moved into the first Habitat home built in the county in 1989, said Habitat homes and residents fit in well with their communities.
"I think sometimes they do tend to get a bad rap," said Mrs. Martin, now a member of the organization's board of directors. "Just because we're trying to build houses that people can afford doesn't mean they are not going to take care of [them]."
Ridgeway residents have been fighting development of about 1.5 county-owned acres off Beverly Road near Watts Avenue for years. The neighborhood is made up mostly of small-to-modest ranchers, bungalows and split-foyer homes with neat yards on quiet streets near Telegraph Road.
Last week, at a meeting of the Greater Severn Improvement Association, attended by County Executive John G. Gary and Habitat for Humanity officials, about a dozen residents came armed with reasons not to build the homes in Ridgeway.
"We the people here don't want it," said Martin Nowakowski, whose wife's family owns 40 acres bordering the county land.
The family has put the land in a conservation trust, ensuring it will not be developed, he said. The county should do the same with its property instead of allowing houses to be built there, he said.
Mr. Nowakowski, whose home is on the family land, believes that Habitat houses would devalue it and that the children who may live in the residences would worsen overcrowding at nearby Ridgeway Elementary School.
Other residents said they feared that building on the lots would cause storm water to drain onto surrounding properties and add runoff into Severn Run.
Some also wanted assurance from Habitat for Humanity that the homes and grounds would be well kept.
Melanie Smith, a Habitat board member, said homeowners are encouraged to keep their yards in a "neat fashion," but that residents would not be forced out of their homes for failing to keep up their property.
Owners of all 20 Habitat homes built in Anne Arundel County since 1989 keep their homes in good condition, she said.
That wasn't enough for Donna Dancy of the Redbridge neighborhood.
"I didn't really like their answers," she said. "They didn't give me an answer as to what happens if they don't do it."
Mr. Gary said the construction of a storm-water management area and a new elementary school to open in 1998 will answer most of the residents' other concerns.
"The reasons I have heard, I don't think justify changing our plan," he said. But he said he probably would allow three homes instead of four, leaving a buffer between the homes and the property belonging to the Nowakowskis and their neighbors.
The county tried to put affordable housing on the 1 1/2 acres, but scrapped the plan in 1993 after residents opposed that development.
The county needs affordable housing for families earning a median income of $45,147 or less and who do not qualify for a mortgage on a house at the median price of $145,000, according to a study released in May by Arundel Community Development Services Inc.
Families selected for Habitat homes earn between $13,000 and $26,000 a year and do not qualify for any other homeownership programs, according to board member Linda Gray.
They are all "working families" who live, work or worship in the county.
All Habitat families must put in at least 500 hours helping to build their home and other Habitat homes. A typical mortgage payment might be $400 a month. Habitat does not add a profit and uses mostly donated labor, materials, supplies and services to build the homes.
Habitat officials point to the Martin family in Harundale as a success story.
Mrs. Martin, her husband, Craig, and their six children bought their four-bedroom house on McGowan Avenue in 1989. The family had rented houses and apartments for 10 years and often had a hard time finding landlords willing to rent to a large family. And on her husband's income as a driver for soft drink company, they could not afford to buy a home, she said.
"So for us it's a blessing to have some place in a safe area where the kids have a yard to play in, a house that fits us, and it's our house," she said. "It feels really good. It's your house, and you know no one is going to take it away from you."
Their four-bedroom house, now filled with seven children, was the first of four homes Habitat built in the neighborhood.
"All the homes that have been built are as nice or nicer than the existing houses" in the neighborhood," said Mrs. Martin, who urges Ridgeway residents to give the Habitat project a chance.
"Rather than say, 'No, no, not in our neighborhood,' why not reach a hand out and get to know the people?" she asked.