Retirement community proposal debated

Company's plans for 265-unit complex worry neighbors


February 27, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After listening to a day of testimony, the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals will continue its hearing tomorrow on a 265-unit retirement community in Eldersburg, a proposal neighbors strongly oppose.

Altieri Homes, a Howard County development company, plans to build 73 townhouses and eight three-story condominium buildings on a 27-acre parcel along Bennett Road, east of Route 32. The homes would be restricted to buyers ages 55 and older.

The project, in the county's conservation zone, must win conditional use approval from the three-member board before it can proceed.

Neighbors of the proposed project, many of them living in homes valued at $300,000 and more, argued that the development would increase traffic, further strain emergency services and utilities and hurt their property values. Hours of experts' testimony took up most of the day Friday and left little time for residents to do more than question witnesses. A few spoke of the increased traffic and safety concerns. Others expect to address their comments to the board tomorrow.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Carroll County edition of The Sun about a retirement community proposed by Altieri Homes incorrectly described the zoning for the Eldersburg site. The land is zoned for residential development.
The Sun regrets the error.

"Nobody expects to roll up the streets after they move in, but these people expected a development of about 50 homes, not 265," said Michelle M. Ostrander, a Westminster attorney representing several neighbors.

Retirement homes need only zoning board approval to build in the conservation zone.

The existing zoning would allow about 50 single-family homes on the parcel, owned by J. Daniel Phillips. But crowded schools in South Carroll have curtailed most residential construction.

Phillips said he purchased the farm property 17 years ago but decided to sell after the rural environment disappeared with the advent of several subdivisions.

Contentious zoning hearings usually boil down to a few basic arguments, and this one was no different. The proceeding opened with traffic experts holding opposite opinions.

Wes Guckert, president of the Traffic Group, said traffic spreads out from the site and "the incremental increase caused by this project will be very, very small."

Everett C. Carter, a retired civil engineer and traffic consultant, calculated a 40 percent increase in traffic, "a huge amount to dump on Bennett Road. That large an increase will change the character of the road."

Carter also criticized the single access to Bennett Road.

"One entrance and exit for emergency services, police and fire equipment could be a problem," Carter said.

Greig Altieri, vice president of the development company, has pledged more than $1 million to build a portion of Monroe Avenue through the development. As more subdivisions are built, Monroe Avenue will be extended east to Oklahoma Road, giving the retirees another entry. But funding for that connection is years away, county planners said.

"Have you ever seen a 265-lot subdivision approved in Carroll County with only one access?" asked Ostrander.

The developer answered "no."

Consultants offered promises of upscale construction. Altieri, who has built several homes in the neighboring subdivisions, said he, like several other developers, has turned to the senior housing market until school crowding eases.

"An active adult community seemed to make the most sense," Altieri said. "There is a large market of empty-nesters who are not interested in maintaining large homes."

Altieri's homes will be more upscale than other retirement units in South Carroll. The project includes plans for a clubhouse, pool and walking trails, he said. He called the townhouses "villas that will fit in with the neighborhood." The taller condo buildings will be at the back of the property.

Altieri's engineering consultants said the project will have no impact on South Carroll's dwindling water resources -- a comment that brought loud gasps from the audience of about 25. The area has endured three consecutive summers with water restrictions.

Joseph M. Cronyn, a marketing expert who has studied several commercial and residential developments in Carroll County, testified that he had tracked home sales in the area. He predicted no decrease in existing home values and brisk sales in the retirement community.

Carroll County will experience tremendous growth in its senior population -- already at about 15,000 households -- in the next decade, Cronyn said. He looked at demand, competition and feasibility and said the project "fits a niche for the active adult market."

An industrial park is west of the proposed community. Homes on spacious lots line the north side of Bennett Road from the highway to Oklahoma Road. Those homes increase in value at about 4 percent a year, Cronyn said.

"If history is any teacher, it is virtually impossible for this property to have a negative impact on properties across the street," he said. "If an industrial park with attendant noise and visual effects does not affect property values, then this nice property won't."

Residents had several opportunities to question witnesses about traffic, water and wetlands. The board will accept further questions tomorrow and then hear closing arguments. Board members are also expected to make their decision at tomorrow's hearing.

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