Residents oppose housing proposal Taylors planning to build further in Autumn View

March 16, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

It all started 85 years ago when Isaac H. Taylor, then a 20-year-old from Baltimore aiming to make his fortune, bought a modest building on Ellicott City's Main Street.

Taylor and his son Irving S. Taylor went on to quietly purchase about 450 acres in and around Ellicott City's historic district and build two local institutions, the defunct Taylor's Furniture store on Main Street and the nationally known Taylor Manor psychiatric hospital on College Avenue.

Now, the Taylors are developing part of their land holdings known as the Autumn View development near Bonnie Branch Road, stirring accusations from a coalition representing about 1,000 neighbors that the Taylor family is insensitive to their interests.

"They are trying to bring many, many houses into this rural pocket, the only one left in the eastern part of the county," said Russell Strough, a College Avenue resident of four years. "The Taylors need to assess the value of the land, not only from a profit standpoint but from the viewpoint of all of the citizens of this county."

The county considers Autumn View prime land for residential development.

And Dr. Bruce Taylor, Isaac's grandson and the medical director and chief executive officer of Taylor Manor Hospital, said no one cares more about Ellicott City than his family.

"There is always someone who would like to see the property next to them remain in a pristine state," he said, "but progress is made by change."

Neighbors fear that their community -- with its narrow, winding roads and forested vistas -- will become clogged with new homes and traffic.

So, four communities in the area -- the Worthington, Ilchester, Bonnie Branch and College Avenue neighborhoods -- have formed a coalition in an effort to alter, if not halt, the Taylors' development plans for Autumn View.

Autumn View, northeast of Route 103 and between New Cut Road and College Avenue, has about 70 $250,000, single-family homes that were built in the development's first two stages. An additional 135 homes on 85 acres are to be built in its last two phases, which is to be completed by 2001.

That's just a portion of the Taylor family's real estate interests in the Ellicott City area, which include about a dozen buildings on Main Street; a 60-acre campus surrounding the family's psychiatric hospital; and Autumn Manor, a 95-acre community west of New Cut Road.

In addition, the Taylor family -- members mostly live in Baltimore County and prefer to keep a low profile -- has almost 200 acres of undeveloped land bordering its hospital and the Autumn Manor and Autumn View developments.

It could take the family 20 years to develop those 200 acres, so the fury generated by its plans could continue for decades.

Potential for development

Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the county's Planning and Zoning Department, agreed that there is considerable potential for development in the area. "This part of the county is not slated to be rural," she said. "It's supposed to be developed."

Bruce Taylor said his family began to acquire Ellicott City real estate in the 1960s. "The family figured it would be a good investment and it would create a buffer for the hospital," he said. "We always thought we would need the additional land to expand the hospital someday."

To manage development of their properties, the Taylors have turned to Donald L. Reuwer of Land Design and Development in Columbia. Reuwer has worked on some of Howard County's more ambitious developments, including Waverly Woods II and Ellicott City's Turf Valley and Terra Maria communities.

Reuwer said the Taylors "have tremendous pride in Ellicott City. Irving grew up on Main Street. He has strong feelings on how the land turns out. He has a whole lot to say about the finished product.

"The Taylors' understand Ellicott City better than anybody," he said.

Tension builds

But there is tension. The residents' Neighborhood Preservation Coalition failed to persuade the county Board of Appeals to overturn the county's approval of the subdivision and of a road extension to College Avenue to serve the development.

And now the residents are debating whether to pursue their appeal in the county courts.

In the meantime, the coalition is gearing up for the next battle -- against the fourth and final stage of Autumn View.

It fears that further development in the area would not only destroy its rural character, but also strain its roads -- particularly College Avenue, designated a scenic road by the county for its many hills but also a site of dangerous joy-riding by young drivers.

"Everyone knew the Taylors were purchasing a lot of land, but no one would have thought they would do all of this developing," said Granville "Sonny" Wehland, a resident of College Avenue for 32 years who was chief of the county Bureau of Highways for 30 years.

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