Zoning plan could limit churches

Increased setback would reduce land usable for expansion

Police pension deal backed

Housing for elderly could be expanded under proposal

March 20, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Proposed zoning law changes that could restrict the expansion of churches and increase housing for senior citizens were discussed at a County Council hearing last night.

Also at the hearing, a bill to grant more generous pensions to county police officers drew support from police union and county government officials.

Concerning church expansion, Peter Mason, a member of the building committee of Calvary Lutheran Church in Woodbine, told the council that "our expansion would be in jeopardy" under the provisions of the proposal. Mason said that by increasing the property line setback from 30 feet to 50 feet, as proposed, the county would reduce the amount of land available for building from 75 percent of a parcel to 48 percent.

The measure would also limit the authority of the County Board of Appeals to modify plans based on individual situations and therefore "serves neither the county nor the community, " Mason said.

Other proposed zoning changes would allow more homes per acre for new housing limited to senior citizens.

Some speakers urged the county to encourage more housing for "active seniors" so that they would stay in Howard County instead of moving to retirement communities such as Leisure World in Montgomery County and Charlestown in Catonsville.

Other speakers said they were worried that liberalized zoning regulations for senior-citizen housing might allow builders to develop denser communities in the rural west.

The police pension deal was the culmination of years of effort by Howard's police union to get better retirement benefits that were denied them under the previous county executive, Republican Charles I. Ecker. If the County Council approves the deal at its April 2 meeting, it will become law.

The agreement, reached last month, would give Howard's 345 officers the most generous pensions in the area, based partly on their higher contributions, by allowing officers to retire at 75 percent of full pay after a 25-year career. Officers in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties get 60 percent pensions after 25 years, and Prince George's officers get 72 percent.

"We're very willing to pay for this retirement," said James Fitzgerald, president of Howard's police union. He called the plan sensible and practical.

The plan would cost the county $936,000 a year, officials said, and officers would have to contribute 11.6 percent of their pay instead of 7.7 percent to get the higher pensions.

Because of that extra expense, county firefighters are seeking a slightly less generous plan that wouldn't cost the 282 firefighters more out of pocket but would cost the county treasury $500,000 a year more. The fire union package is due for introduction in the County Council next month.

County and police union officials say their plan is needed, along with recent major salary increases, to attract and retain the best people.

"I want the best of the best. I want officers who are problem-solvers," Police Chief Wayne Livesay told the council.

Under the plan, a county police officer could retire after 20 years at 50 percent of full pay and after 25 years at 75 percent salary. The fire package, approved by the Howard County Professional Firefighters Association March 9, also would allow retirement at 50 percent of pay after 20 years but would give 25-year veterans a 65 percent pension and provide 70 percent after 30 years.

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