Panel to hear plan for townhouses in historic Ellicott City Proposed development on Fels Lane draws concern from residents

September 03, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Historic District Commission will hear a proposal tonight to build 27 townhouses along Ellicott City's Fels Lane, a plan already drawing fire from residents.

"I think once the community hears about it they'll be quite interested," said Herbert Johl, the commission's chairman. "It's something you don't expect. All of a sudden, someone is talking about changing the character [of the historic district] drastically."

Michael Pfau, president of Trinity Homes Inc., hopes to build the houses on slightly less than 6 acres of a 7.25-acre lot across from the Roger Carter Recreation Center. Now there is one 70-year-old stone house on the lot, which is surrounded by woods and a stream.

"I think it's going to be very quaint," Pfau said of his plan to make the townhouses look a century old with facades of granite and wood. "It has Ellicott City written all over it."

Pfau's preliminary plan calls for four groups of four to eight homes and one individual home, all surrounding the 70-year-old house which has been converted into five apartments.

"You will be able to open your front door, walk a few blocks and be in the heart of the city," said Pfau, who plans to sell the homes for about $130,000 each.

But some residents said there has been too much development in historic Ellicott City. "People are generally fed up with )R development," said Sally Bright, a community activist who has lived in Ellicott City for 30 years. "Every time you build a house, you impact Main Street and you can't widen that road."

Said Jack O'Dell, who has lived in the stone house on the site of the proposed development for 2 1/2 years: "I'm tired of people eating up small pockets of land to build townhouses. It just means that strip malls and Columbia's scene is one step closer to Ellicott City."

But most residents said they are primarily concerned about the impact that projects like this are having on preserving the historic district.

"We have worked hard to maintain Ellicott City's history," said Enalee Bounds, who has lived in the area for 35 years. "It's a thriving community, but we don't want to destroy the history."

Pfau's plan would be allowed under the property's historic office zoning, which allows for non-retail buildings -- homes, apartments, banks, office buildings and bed-and-breakfast inns.

But it must receive approval from the Historic District Commission, which reviews the proposed appearance and structure of projects to ensure that they blend with the surroundings.

Even if his plan gets that approval, Pfau might run into more opposition at the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the department's director, said he is concerned about building houses on a property with so many steep hills -- which make up 1.39 acres of the property.

"I think the biggest opposition is going to be me," said Rutter. "I don't want something that is likely to be a problem."

But he said: "I'm flying blind. I haven't seen the plan yet."

Pfau said he is not planning to build on the hills.

There is one other townhouse community in the historic district -- the Graystone community, off College Avenue, where there are 28 townhouses. The project was completed in 1991.

"Townhomes in the historic district of Ellicott City is not new," said Steve Bockmiller, the commission's administrative assistant in the Office of Planning and Zoning.

The Pfau property -- which was originally owned by the Heine family -- has been the site of housing proposals in the past. In 1996, officials considered building a senior citizens' apartment complex on the site. And in 1991, officials rejected a site plan because of the area's difficult landscape.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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