Condo plans halted again

Circuit Court ruling means another delay for seniors complex

Builder undeterred

Judge's decision turns on proposal for dining area

February 09, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A Howard County developer hoping to build a 116-unit condominium complex for senior citizens in Glenwood was dealt either a major blow or a minor setback, depending on whom you ask.

The developer, Donald Reuwer, says the ruling last week by Howard County Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman pertained to a small issue that he can either resolve before the county Board of Appeals or through legal maneuvers.

Opponents of the project said Gelfman's ruling sends the project back to the Board of Appeals for consideration. That would mean another lengthy set of hearings on the planned condominiums off Route 97 near Cattail Creek Country Club.

Either way, the fight over the condominiums in western Howard County likely will resume before the appeals board.

Gelfman ruled that the board erred when it granted the project a special exception because a planned common dining area did not meet zoning regulations. The special exception was necessary because the land is not zoned for condominums. The judge did not return several phone calls seeking clarification of her ruling.

Reuwer said he was weighing legal options, including asking Gelfman to reconsider her ruling. He said he probably will go before the Board of Appeals again and propose building a common dining facility on the 58-acre site.

"I don't think this will delay [the condominiums] at all," Reuwer said, adding that it would take 90 to 120 days to get the plan approved by the board.

Assistant County Solicitor Lonnie Robbins declined to comment on the ruling, pending a discussion with the Board of Appeals. But Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county's director of planning and zoning, said the order meant another round of hearings on the project.

Noting that he was familiar only with a portion of Gelfman's order, Rutter said, "The bottom line was, the decision was reversed. That means the developer would have to start over."

Susan Gray, a Highland slow-growth activist who represents residents fighting the project, declared victory and promised another fight.

"I'm extremely happy," Gray said.

The battle over the condominiums has been brewing for more than two years. In September 1998, after several months of heated hearings, the Board of Appeals approved Reuwer's plans to build the Villas at Cattail Creek.

Gelfman ruled that the board correctly granted approval on several other contentious points, including adequate transportation for residents and projecting the area's ground water.

Reuwer was seeking a special exception to build the condominiums, which he says will cost from $230,000 to $300,000. The homes would accommodate residents older than 60, as well as the spouses of people older than 60. Unlike assisted-living centers, the Villas would be designed for active senior citizens.

Gelfman's decision, like other zoning disputes, turned on definitions. In this case, she parsed the meaning of two words: "containing" and "common."

Under zoning regulations, housing for the elderly must have a common dining facility. Reuwer had struck an agreement with the country club to let Villas residents use a common dining area there. The Board of Appeals gave its approval. But detractors said the dining facility was too far from the condominiums and would require residents to walk along a cart path or drive in golf carts.

County rules state that housing for the elderly consists of a "building or buildings containing dwelling units, a common dining area and related facilities."

Using a dictionary to define "containing" and "common," Gelfman ruled that the dining area did not meet zoning regulations.

"The definition for housing for the elderly requires that the special exception plan contain a common dining area which is included on the special exception site," Gelfman wrote. "The court finds that the special exception application did not meet the definition."

Gray said she would attack the way Reuwer subdivided the land to gain his special exception. She also said she would assail the proposed septic system for the condominiums.

Rutter said his office approved plans for the dining room for the seniors at the Country Club because they are "young elderly."

The Villas' dining area would have been "closer than common dining facilities on other large campuses," Rutter said. "I thought it met the intent [of the regulations]. The judge said it didn't. Then, it didn't."

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