Developer considers opponents' concerns

New blueprints adopt suggestions, but worries linger


January 19, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

In a rare adoption of an opponent's suggestions, the developer of a proposed retirement community in Elkridge has changed his blueprints to make the planned homes more closely resemble the large, new houses that dominate Montgomery Road.

The Brantly Development Group has submitted revised plans for its proposed Rockburn Woods community that call for eight large, detached houses, each containing two or three separate units for "active seniors." Last month, the Howard County Planning and Zoning Department recommended against the developer's initial plans, which called for 21 small, detached houses on the 7-acre lot adjacent to Rockburn Park.

Crowding so many houses onto a relatively small space didn't leave enough room for overflow parking and greenery, county officials found. In addition, residents of a new subdivision of $350,000 homes across Montgomery Road worried that the small retiree homes, which would sell for about $200,000 each, would look jarringly out of place and depress property values.

Neighbors suggested the developers instead clump the retirement units into larger, Tudor-style houses that could be built to look like nearby single-family homes. This week, they cheered the developer's decision to take up their recommendation in the revised plans, which will be considered by the county Planning Board at 9:30 a.m. March 1.

"It sounds like it may be a little better," said Debra Higdon-Buono, who had compared the potential impact of the small detached units to the arrival of a trailer park. "If it looks like it blends in with the neighborhood, I don't think it will affect us that much."

Higdon-Buono said she was still concerned that the plans do not leave enough room for recreational activities for seniors. The new designs include the addition of a small green circle in the center of the development, with a gazebo, but no plans for a recreation center, pool, tennis courts or the like.

"If it's supposed to be a senior community, part of the criteria for that is having activities. I don't want them to be able to say it's senior housing just so they can put in more housing than they normally could," she said. "If they truly care about seniors, let's do what we're supposed to do for them."

According to county Planning and Zoning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the simple addition of the green island in the middle of the development was a significant improvement in the plans. Clustering the units also left more room for overflow parking and for storm-water management, he said.

"We want some outdoor area that's usable," he said. "By putting units together, it makes things a lot more open on the site."

Robert Schulz, 71, of nearby Rockburn Hill Road was less enthusiastic about the changes in the plans. It was unfortunate, he said, that residents of large, new homes on Montgomery Road had denied retirees the chance to buy their own small houses, which he said many seniors preferred to living in units within larger buildings.

"It seems outrageous that these people would object to $200,000 homes. Lots of us don't think too much of their gigantic homes, which are basically ugly if you get right down to it," Schulz said. "The cottage-type [retiree home] is preferred by everyone over the condo-type thing. Nobody wants to walk down a corridor and have a number on their door. If you have your own place, you can have a few flowers and a yard, a place to walk out the door."

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