The need for elderly housing Traffic, scale issues can't be ignored, but neither can housing need.

April 02, 1996

OVER THE NEXT quarter-century, Howard County's elderly population is expected to increase two-and-a-half times over what it is now. In fact, statewide, the number of residents 65 or older is expected to grow from one in 10 in 1990 to one in six by the year 2020. Thus, the need for additional housing to accommodate this growing sector should be apparent -- or must become so.

There has been notable opposition to a half-dozen elderly complexes being planned around Howard County. Residents fear traffic and depressed property values. Six projects slated to open by 1998 include two in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village and one each in Jessup, Elkridge, Ellicott City and Fulton. They would almost double the amount of housing for the elderly currently in the county.

Ellicott City and Hickory Ridge residents have petitioned the county's Board of Appeals to try to stop the projects in their neighborhoods. A complex slated for Ellicott City's commercial district has also drawn the ire of some merchants. The objectors typically begin, "It's not that we're against the elderly" and then go on to detail all the reasons they don't want to see the project built.

Although the critics have a hard time avoiding being labeled "elitists," their concerns are not unfounded. A three-story residential complex may increase traffic in a suburban neighborhood, though probably not significantly. More to the point, construction in a busy commercial district could turn into a short-term nightmare if certain roads must be closed. Also, an out-of-scale building could alter the character of a neighborhood.

Developers and residents need to compromise so the gap can be further closed between demand and supply of elderly housing. Planners could win converts by considering residents' concerns and designing their projects accordingly. Developers should strive to work with the surrounding community and some apparently are trying to do so, Howard County Planning Director Joseph Rutter said.

Although they might not admit it, even the opponents have a stake in this issue that transcends their current homes. Some of the people fighting this housing now may be the same people in need of it for themselves or their own parents a decade or two hence.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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