Columbia residents oppose housing for elderly Tense hearing presages continuation next month

January 24, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Columbia residents opposed to construction of an 89-unit apartment project for the elderly in Hickory Ridge village plan to turn out in force next month when the Howard County Board of Appeals continues its hearing on the subject.

"Everybody tells us the odds are against us, but we don't believe it," said Larry Ricklin, whose home is near the proposed development on 18 acres between Owen Brown and Freetown Roads, across from Hickory Ridge Shopping Center.

The appeals board -- which will take up the issue again Feb. 15 -- got its first taste of that opposition Thursday, at a more than three-hour hearing during which developer Earl Armiger was cross-examined by an attorney for 56 Hickory Ridge residents.

Mr. Armiger is seeking a special exception that would allow him to build a three-story apartment complex that would house 48 tenants in two wings connected by a central dining area and would include an art studio and library.

Most of the tenants living in the 48-unit main complex would be single, Mr. Armiger said.

Couples would live in "cottage units." Thirty cottage units would be clustered near Owen Brown Road and another 11 would be clustered near Freetown Road.

The county Planning Board voted 3-2 on Jan. 3 to recommend approval of the development.

Timothy J. McCrone, attorney for the Hickory Ridge neighbors, said at last week's hearing that his clients "are in favor of housing for the elderly," but that they believe an 18-acre development in their "low-density neighborhood" would create "a lot of adverse effect."

As Mr. Armiger made his case for the project, the lawyer contested nearly every detail.

When Mr. Armiger spoke of providing a central dining facility where residents could eat once a day, Mr. McCrone characterized the facility as a restaurant that might send cooking odors and the smell of rotting trash wafting through the neighborhood.

Mr. Armiger said cooking odors would be contained and that trash would be kept inside at a central location until picked up.

What about noise from trash trucks and delivery vehicles? Mr. McCrone wanted to know.

It would be no worse than if the project were developed for single-family homes on half-acre lots -- which is the current zoning, Mr. Armiger said.

What about water runoff from 125 parking spaces and the 22-foot-wide road that would wend through the property? Mr. McCrone asked.

By law, there would be no more than there is now and perhaps less, Mr. Armiger and his experts said.

Mr. McCrone's continual parrying so nettled Mr. Armiger that he told the residents' attorney: "You're blowing this all out of proportion!"

Mr. Armiger told the board that the proposed site is "ideal" for the kind of "independent living" development he wants to build for elderly tenants there.

He noted that the site is across the street from the Hickory Ridge Shopping Center, is on a public transportation route and is only a short distance from Howard County General Hospital.

"On top of that, it is just a beautiful site" that would retain 66 percent of the open space, he said.

The issue is not one of public policy, but whether the development meets the criteria for the special elderly housing exception allowed under the zoning, Ronald S. Schimel, Mr. Armiger's attorney, told the board.

Mr. Schimel said the proposed development "would be an asset to the community of which I am a member," and that he was "pleased and proud" to present the special exception request on behalf of Mr. Armiger.

The board hopes to conclude its hearing Feb. 15. But if it doesn't, it may have to extend hearings on the issue until May because of prior commitments. It would likely issue a decision within 30 days of completing the hearing.

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