No decision reached on development Townhouse project has been debated for nearly 2 years

School crowding an issue

254 rental units would be built at Carrolltowne

March 26, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county Board of Zoning Appeals could not reach a decision yesterday on a controversial townhouse development in Eldersburg despite hours of testimony and scant new evidence.

Security Development Corp., a Howard County builder, wants to complete its nearly 25-year-old Carrolltowne subdivision with the construction of 254 rental units on 20 acres at Ridge Road and Kali Drive.

The project has bounced between the county Planning and Zoning Commission and the appeals board for nearly two years.

In September, Carroll County Circuit Court said the appeals board must rule on a March 1996 planning commission decision that denied the project because of crowded schools and roads and a technicality in the original building plans.

"The issue boils down to whether there are adequate facilities to serve this project," said Laurel Taylor, county attorney. "The planning commission has a clear contractual right to turn down 254 units in a severely congested area, whose master plan is under intense revision."

Benjamin Rosenberg and William Dulany, attorneys for the developer, said Carrolltowne is a planned unit development approved in 1972. Although the developer agreed to 120 units fewer than originally slated for the final phase, the county is still using technicalities to delay the project, Dulany said.

The county countered with alarming statistics on crowded schools that serve the area. Carrolltowne Elementary, which sits on part of the 25 acres the developer deeded to the county, relies on 10 portable buildings to handle an enrollment of 850 students. The building has a capacity of 575 children.

"Most certainly there will be an impact from this development, unless you can guarantee there will be no children," said Kathleen Sanner, an assistant in school facilities for the county.

The other three elementaries in South Carroll also are over capacity. The new Linton Springs School, set to open in 1998, could relieve the crowding, but only if development slows in the county's fastest-growing area.

More than 400 new homes -- one-third of all those built in the county -- were settled in South Carroll last year.

Attorneys for the developer argued that the townhouses would be phased in at the rate of about 50 units a year and that the new elementary school would solve any crowding.

Linton Springs will open at capacity, and the school board will still need seats for about 150 children, Sanner said.

Of greater concern is Liberty High School, which is nearly 120 percent over capacity.

"There is no project to relieve this facility," said Philip Rovang, the county's director of planning. "If nothing happens, it will grow 10 percent over capacity every year."

The developer could not foresee the present conditions, said Rosenberg, adding that the numbers "impose tremendous prejudice on the applicant."

Taylor cited a clause in the original agreement which says that any multifamily project must pass a facilities review.

"The county always sought adequate facilities certification as part of the approval process," said Franklin G. Schaeffer, chief of the county's Bureau of Development Review.

Residents have mounted formidable opposition to what would be low-income housing in an area where the cost of many newer homes approaches $200,000.

"The planning commission made its decision out of moral obligation to the community," said Carolyn Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council.

"It is not true that we just don't want apartments," she said. "There are severe inadequacies, and we cannot support this project."

Other residents complained about dense traffic, particularly at Ridge Road and Route 26, which has been rated one of the county's most dangerous intersections.

Townhouse residents would have access to Ridge Road only via Kali Drive. With an estimated 10 daily trips per household, said McDuff Court resident Lori Thompson, "Kali Drive will be a highway, not a neighborhood street."

While Rosenberg sympathized with the residents' concerns, he said: "A contract is a contract. The issue has nothing to do with whether people want this development where they live."

The board will take a few weeks to review the evidence. Attorneys for both sides have until April 4 to file further arguments. The board will notify residents of the time and place of its deliberations, which occur in open session.

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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