Compromise accepted on office plan

Panel approves Pfau blueprint for 7 two-story buildings

Years of dispute put to end

Proposal includes buffer for parking, smaller facilities

Ellicott City

January 05, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

After months of bitter fighting over development in historic Ellicott City, builder Michael L. Pfau and community activists have settled on a plan for offices that both sides say they can live with.

The Historic District Commission, which has twice rejected proposals from Pfau, voted 4-1 last night to approve his latest plan. Only Commissioner Robert Williams opposed the project.

The commission has seven members, but one was absent and another abstained because he missed an earlier meeting on the proposal.

Last night's meeting - in stark contrast to the heated earlier hearings - was nearly a love fest. Residents thanked Pfau, Pfau's attorney thanked residents and commission members thanked everyone, exceedingly pleased at the unexpected turn of events.

Pfau's company, Trinity Homes Inc., worked out a compromise with residents last week that tweaks his latest plan for a seven-building office complex on Fels Lane, near the businesses on Main Street.

"Wonder of wonders," said Richard B. Talkin, Pfau's attorney, as he explained the situation to the panel last night.

Commission members said they were happy to see that the proposal met their requirements and fared well under the scrutiny of neighbors, some of whom are historic preservationists.

"We know there's been a lot of divisiveness," said Neil Lang, vice chairman of the commission. "But in the long run, the achievement is worth it."

While not praising the plan, residents said they were glad to see the changes.

"I think we've gotten to where it needs to be," said Gary Segal, president of the Patapsco Heights-Church Road Association, which has opposed Pfau's Fels Lane proposals for about three years.

Pfau estimated last night that he might be able to start building in eight months to a year.

His plan must be reviewed by county agencies, including the Department of Planning and Zoning.

His proposal calls for seven two-story buildings on Fels Lane. The tallest building in the 22,096- square-foot complex would be about 28 feet high.

The compromise changes his plan slightly: He agreed to put wood siding on the structures, buffer the parking spaces with shrubbery and move one building away from a historic house on the site.

"I didn't want to do a project that the citizens weren't happy with," Pfau said.

His architect, Gregory Mitchell, president of G M A & D in Ellicott City, said resident Kay Weeks contacted him and worked with him on the changes. Weeks is a preservationist for the National Park Service.

"It's just going to be an exciting project, and I'm glad that the community is starting to support it," Mitchell said.

"It's one way to keep Ellicott City and the historic district thriving, to keep new businesses coming into the area."

Segal said residents were willing to compromise because they thought Pfau's latest plan was better than his earlier proposals for the site.

Earlier proposals

Pfau first asked to build 27 townhouses on the land, but commission members rejected the request in 1998.

He then submitted several proposals for offices. He withdrew one after residents protested, and another was turned down in July by commissioners, who thought it overwhelmed the site.

The buildings in his latest proposal are smaller.

"We thought it was a pretty good plan," Segal said. "We thought they were close enough that we could work hand in hand. ... Both sides gave and took a little."

`It's a process'

Ellicott City resident Richard Bright wished that a compromise had been worked out three years ago.

"All of this could have been done from the beginning," he said. "We didn't have to go through all this."

But Pfau said a meeting of the minds can take time. Modifications had been made from proposal to proposal.

"I guess it has to develop - it's a process," he said.

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