Proposal to place ex-drug addicts in house draws fire Catonsville neighbors object to plan for women

February 24, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A historic Catonsville house has become an unlikely battleground because of a Howard County program's plans to )) offer it as a place for a fresh start for women emerging from drug treatment and their children.

Supporters of the program say the location of Robin's Range -- more than 3 acres at Altavue and Rolling roads -- is perfect and the program safe. But opponents say they don't want more neighborhood homes converted for such programs -- especially for former drug addicts placed by another county.

"The general sense at the moment is panic," said Stuart Bannett, president of the North Rolling Road Community Association.

The focus of the dispute is a program run by Potomac Healthcare Foundation Ltd. of Rockville, which is using a motel on U.S. 1 in Elkridge in Howard County. David Ennis, project manager for Potomac, said he searched 18 months for better quarters to lease.

A maximum of eight women and 12 children would live in the 19th-century, two-story house under 24-hour supervision. The women would be out all day working, and no male visitors would be allowed, Ennis said.

Dr. Helen Lann, Howard County director of Mental Health, said the house is close to jobs, public transportation and good schools.

"There are very few places for pregnant women and women with young children to go," she said. Catonsville neighbors have nothing to fear, she added, because Potomac "has been absolutely rigid -- strictly adherent" in enforcing program rules.

But some residents and their elected officials have appealed to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker to block Potomac's plans to lease the estate, which includes a second, smaller house, for three years.

Catonsville residents have fought several battles to block assisted living programs for the elderly from using large old homes, including one across Rolling Road from Robin's Range. The latest proposal has increased the residents' sense of victimization.

"We have a lot of these facilities. It changes the tone of our neighborhood," said longtime area resident Judith Smith, who is an aide to Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Catonsville Democrat.

What seems to gall opponents most is that Potomac is financed with $450,000 in state money, funneled through the Howard County government.

"Any jurisdiction which runs a program stays within its own boundary," Dewberry said. "How many other times will this happen? Everything that comes through Howard County will come to western Baltimore County? I think not."

Dewberry, who agrees the program is worthwhile, has told Ecker about his objections to the Catonsville location.

Ecker said Friday that he will try to stop the project if the Catonsville neighbors don't want it.

L Some neighborhood residents are adamant in their opposition.

"I keep my doors locked all the time," Smith said. "You don't want to encourage any more less-than-desirable people into your neighborhood."

Ennis had a quick reply: "This would be a house where we can absolutely guarantee there will be no substance use at all. How many houses can say that?"

Not every resident is against the plan, the subject of a county zoning hearing March 17.

Lloyd L. Klein Jr., who has lived on Altavue Road since 1954, says the proposal is better than owner C. Godfrey Garvey's former plan for subdividing the land and building houses on it.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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