Senior housing may strain town's emergency services

Retirement community in Eldersburg seen adding to burden in South Carroll

February 15, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A developer's plans to build a 265-unit retirement community along Bennett Road in Eldersburg will further strain the area's already taxed fire and ambulance services, fire officials say.

The development is part of a boom in retirement home construction in South Carroll, creating a burden for the volunteers providing emergency services, said Bobby Ray Chesney, chief of the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department.

"The more of these developments you build, the more you are taxing our ability to service them," said Chesney. "Any facility with a large population of elderly needs on-site medical coverage. You can't keep on putting sticks in the ground without planning what you are going to do for the people moving in."

Nearly 300 units for the elderly are planned or under construction along the Liberty Road corridor. Another 100 are already occupied. These are in addition to numerous retirement communities, such as Fairhaven in Sykesville, and nursing homes in the area.

School crowding has led to calls for a halt to residential development in South Carroll, the county's most populous area with more than 28,000 residents. Developers have switched from subdivisions to communities restricted to buyers ages 55 and older.

The latest development is from Howard County-based Altieri Homes, which plans to build 73 townhouses and eight four-story condominium buildings. To proceed, the project needs approval from the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals; the site's conservation zoning allows retirement homes as a conditional use.

Greig Altieri, vice presi- dent of the company, which has built several of the neighboring homes, said he envisions an upscale community with some units selling in excess of $200,000.

"We went to the neighbors and told them what we planned," he said. "We are not trying to hide anything, and we are not going to devalue what is there."

For Catherine Dodson of Bennett Road, the Altieri retirement community "is a ploy to get around the county's adequate facilities regulations on schools. I don't see a strong market for so many of these retirement homes in South Carroll."

For Chesney, it will mean more work for volunteers handling one of the county's largest volumes of emergency calls. The Sykesville department provides 24-hour coverage to a 47-square-mile area. It has two ambulances, 24 paid emergency medical technicians and nearly 200 volunteers.

Half of its nearly 2,000 ambulance calls last year were to elderly residences, and the numbers are growing, said Chesney. He frequently has asked that developments for the elderly maintain fully equipped ambulances on site.

"These developers build and leave," said Chesney. "They don't care who is left to baby-sit."

The strain on the fire department is one of a long list of complaints neighbors have about the new project, set for 27 acres on Bennett Road near Oklahoma Road.

"We are not opposed to development," said Dodson. "We want responsible development with controls on traffic and density."

The Board of Zoning Appeals, which has scheduled a hearing Feb. 25 on the project, could rule in favor of Altieri and pave the way for construction.

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