The county Board of Appeals unanimously approved last night a proposed 147-unit retirement community at Route 144 and Marriottsville Road, over the objections of residents who fear the plan will set a bad precedent for the county's rural west.
"Concerns about this not fitting in the neighborhood may be justified to a certain extent, but there's nothing in the regulations that prevents it," said board member Bill Waff.
The proposal by developers Brantly Corp. and Landsource Ltd. calls for 75 single-family homes and 72 attached units on 73 acres. It has drawn close attention because the site is just outside the boundary of the county's public sewer area, which is meant to divide the county's developed east from its rural west.
The site is also very near Doughoregan Manor, the home of founding father Charles Carroll.
Opponents worry that it will put further pressure on the manor's owners to sell some of their 860 acres for development when a historic easement on the estate expires in 2007.
"The county must look carefully at approving this with a national treasure so close by," said Ellicott City resident Ann Jones. "Immeasurable and irreparable harm could impact [the manor]."
The developers' lawyer, Richard B. Talkin, agreed that after 2007, "Doughoregan Manor could be developed according to its zoning."
Building senior housing on the site will allow the developers to build about twice as many units as they would have been allowed were they building regular single-family homes.
The developers initially hadhoped the county would extend sewer lines to the site.
They noted that it is served by public water, which was brought to Marriottsville 10 years ago after concerns arose about well contamination from the Alpha Ridge landfill.
Discovering that they lacked county support to extend public sewer to the site, the developers produced an alternate plan: a multi- user septic system in one 11-acre corner of the site that would handle the wastewater from all 147 homes.
The system would be the largest of its kind in the county.
This failed to appease the plan's critics, who argue that allowing a high-density development served by a large septic system in the county's western area would defeat the purpose of the public sewer area boundary.
Health officials' view
County health officials have expressed doubts about whether such a large system would work on the site, noting that neighbors have had trouble with their septic systems.
Last night, Jones predicted that if the septic system does fail, the county would be forced to extend sewer lines to the site, as the developers wanted.
"If serious problems develop and 147 seniors are without sewer service, is it rational to assume a future County Council would deny them sewer service?" she said.
Board members said they also had concerns about the site's septic system, but that it will be up to health officials to approve that.
Speculation on impact
As for Doughoregan Manor, board member James W. Pfefferkorn noted that it was "pure speculation" to predict how the retirement community would affect the fate of the estate.
Pfefferkorn wanted the developers to make one concession to local conservation: He requested that they keep a stone mile marker on the site that dates to when Frederick Road (Route 144) was the National Pike.
"It's historic," Pfefferkorn said.
Board member Pat Patterson agreed.
"It could be part of the [retirement] community," he said.