Senior home sparks standoff Unlicensed business violates community covenant, foes say

November 30, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

A Columbia village board is trying to use its neighborhood covenant regulations to shut down a home for the elderly, a move that worries housing and elderly advocates as it adds fuel to a controversy that has raged in the Baltimore area.

The Wilde Lake Community Association and the Columbia Association are suing to close one of two assisted-living homes on the same street, contending that the home does not have a business license, as required by the neighborhood covenants.

"We are concerned that communities may be able to use their covenants to keep these much-needed facilities out of communities," said Jeffrey H. Myers, an assistant attorney general in the state's Office on Aging. "This [case] and a couple of other cases could set a precedent for how the federal Fair Housing Act compares to covenant laws."

To some, assisted-living facilities are needed additions to the urban and suburban landscape as the nation copes with an aging population. Others say they are businesses trying to sneak into residential areas under the Fair Housing Act cloak of offering homes to the elderly.

"The issue is that someone is using their entire house as a business, as if I were opening a 7-Eleven or a beauty shop in a residential area," said Paul Imre, 73, who lives near the facilities. "Having a group home in one area is fine, but having two within 100 yards of each other is just too much. This is a rather small side street. It's a fragile area."

The controversy in Columbia is unfolding on Waterfowl Terrace -- the street where Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy lives -- between two assisted-living homes, Bryant Woods Inn 1 and 2, and their neighbors.

Legal maneuvers

The Wilde Lake Village Board granted a business license to Bryant Woods 1 in March 1996, but refused -- citing too much noise, traffic and trash -- to grant one for Bryant Woods 2, two doors down,according to the owners, Carmen Colandrea and her son Richard.

Last month, the village board quashed a second request by the owners for an in-home license for Bryant Woods 2.

Though the Colandreas' first license request for Bryant Woods 2 was turned down last year, they continued to operate. So the Columbia Association sued the Colandreas to shut Bryant Woods 2 in April 1996. That suit is scheduled for a January hearing in Howard County Circuit Court.

In response to the Columbia Association's efforts, four residents of the house and Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. -- a nonprofit housing-advocacy group founded by Columbia's developer, James W. Rouse -- sued the Columbia Association and the Wilde Lake Community Association in federal court in October 1996.

That suit alleges that efforts to close the home violate the Fair Housing Act. No trial date has been set.

It is a theory the Colandreas tested when they challenged the right of the county to use zoning ordinances to reject an expansion at Bryant Woods 1. The U.S. District Court in Baltimore and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the county's decision.

Much-needed facilities

The way the Colandreas and advocates for the elderly see it, these homes will become vital. The facilities allow people who do not need the extensive medical and institutional care of a nursing home to live in supervised communities. And, they contend, using a neighborhood covenant to close a home would violate provisions of the Fair Housing Act that outlaw discrimination against the elderly.

In much of the Baltimore area -- particularly Baltimore County -- battles have raged over these facilities as residents complain that the homes change their neighborhoods.

An unlicensed business

In Wilde Lake, the village board says simply that the assisted-living homes are businesses and need to be licensed.

Under the board's decision, none of the eight residents of Bryant Woods 2 -- which has been operating for six years -- would be forced to leave. But no new residents would be allowed when vacancies occur.

Despite their security, current residents decry the decision.

"This is all very, very bad," said Jesse Benesch, 85, who moved to the house from Baltimore three months ago. "We wanted a place that could help my wife and keep us together. This type of operation should function very well in a residential environment like this."

Neighbors disagree, saying they are not discriminating against the elderly -- in fact, there are at least a dozen senior citizens

living on the horseshoe-shaped street -- but two assisted-living facilities on the street is one too many.

Richard Colandrea, who says he has spent about $50,000 in legal fees to battle the community groups, says he doesn't understand the neighbors' complaints.

"[Our residents] go to bed by 7 p.m. They don't have wild parties. They don't throw beer cans on the yard," he said. "They seldom go out. They are the best neighbors you could have."

Homes increasing

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