Developer's plan to turn Elkridge school into senior housing seems to gain ground

Vacant building expected to go on market

no others have expressed interest

April 15, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

A Columbia-based developer may be one step closer to converting the former Elkridge Elementary School building into an affordable housing apartment complex for senior citizens.

Last week, the Howard County Council passed a resolution turning the aging county school building on Old Washington Road over to County Executive James N. Robey for disposition. Robey is expected to direct that the building be placed on the market and sold to the highest bidder.

Jim Forster hopes to be that bidder. For several months, he has been eyeing the property with the hopes of constructing a 54-unit apartment complex and a community center that would be available for public use.

"There is a big demand for affordable housing in the area," Forster said. "It would be located in a well-established old community, near marketplaces and public transportation."

Forster wants to construct a building that would be modeled after the 120-unit apartment complex called Warren Place Senior Housing and Senior Center, which he developed in Cockeysville. Baltimore County officials gave the developer the go-ahead several years ago to convert Cockeysville Elementary School into the $6.1 million facility. The building opened in December, and is half-filled, Forster said.

In January, Forster solicited support from the Elkridge Community Association for the construction of a similar facility in the vacant school, but Kevin Doyle, president of the association, said members voted against the plan.

"Many members felt that the area was ill-suited for Mr. Forster's plans," Doyle said. "There were some concerns about parking, and some members felt that the building was poorly situated."

Doyle said he is uncertain whether there is a need for another senior housing complex in the Elkridge area, since Colonial Landing apartments off U.S. 1 houses many senior citizens. But others say affordable housing for senior citizens is needed.

"I think it's a good idea when anyone wants to build an apartment for seniors," said Robert Payne, 67, who has lived in Elkridge since 1939. "We could use more affordable housing. There just isn't enough."

Forster said his plans for the complex include one- and two-bedroom apartments that would rent for $350 to $450 a month, utilities included. Forster said tax credits, project financing and a rental housing project loan from the state would help keep rents down. He would like to begin construction in August.

The school building has been vacant since December, when 108 preschool youngsters in the Head Start program were forced from the building after its boiler failed and could not be repaired. The building last operated as a school in 1991. It was closed after the new Elkridge Elementary School in the 7500 block of Montgomery Road opened.

Jim Irvin, county director of public works, was uncertain when the property would be sold. He said that the building, which is still legally titled to the Board of Education, has to be transferred to the county.

"The County Council gave the county executive the ability to do with the building what he wanted without stipulation," said Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Elkridge Republican who introduced the resolution last month. "The county does not have a use for the school building."

Forster is the only developer who has expressed an interest in the property, officials said.

"I certainly want to do this, and I believe the county wants to do this as well," Forster said.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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