Baby boomer development drawing local opposition

Perry Hall residents leery of builder's plan

September 16, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Promising condominiums and villas so luxurious that aging baby boomers will gladly forsake the beaches of Florida to retire in Perry Hall, a Baltimore County developer is readying a presentation to the planning board for the county's first "active adult community."

Increasingly common, especially in New Jersey, such communities are designed for people age 55 and older. They don't allow children and offer empty-nesters swimming pools, putting greens, horseshoe pits, walking trails, and homes with cathedral ceilings, whirlpool tubs and two-car garages.

The only problem is that the developer, Ray Guidace, is trying to build them in Honeygo, a community that spent years putting into law the most stringent design standards in the county, a code that calls for single-family homes and 85-foot-wide lots - not condos or townhouses, no matter how nice.

The development - which would include 44 villas, or townhomes, and 96 condos on 44 acres - was proposed as a "planned unit development," a designation written into county code to allow creative designs that improve a community, even if they violate existing zoning.

But that has only energized opposition to the project. More than area 200 residents showed up at a recent community meeting on the project.

When David Marks, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, asked who opposed the development, the room became a sea of raised hands.

A few days before the meeting, County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Democrat who represents the area, introduced a bill that would ban planned unit developments (PUDs) in Honeygo.

Guarding against PUDs

Marks said his association hasn't taken a stand on the bill, but said treating Honeygo differently makes sense.

"Honeygo is in many ways an experiment: Honeygo is its own planned unit development, a unique district created in Baltimore County designed to prevent people from moving to Harford County," Marks said. "We're afraid that if this one goes through, there will be PUDs popping up everywhere."

Arnold Jablon, the director of the Department of Permits and Development Management, disagrees. He said he doesn't think Gardina's bill serves any purpose.

"First of all, PUDs are very few - I can't think of more than a handful - and No. 2, there are many more checks and balances for PUDs than there are for the normal development process," he said.

Filling a need

Guidace said at the community meeting that while the proposal includes more than the 39 units that would be allowed under current zoning, he plans to build luxury homes, costing $200,000 to $300,000, that would enhance the community.

Moreover, he said, the homes would fill an underserved niche in Baltimore County's housing market.

Nationwide, new housing types for empty-nesters in or approaching retirement are increasingly important, said John J. Piazza, a Washington state builder who is chairman of the National Association of Homebuilders' Senior Housing Council.

When their children are grown and couples are older, they often seek to move to a home they can live in the rest of their lives, where they won't have to worry about maintenance or yard work or snow shoveling, he said.

At the same time, baby boomers often dislike the idea of retreating to traditional Sun Belt retirement communities, preferring instead to be near their families and the cultural life of the cities where they've worked, Piazza said. They want to live in active communities where they can socialize with people of their own age.

"Most baby boomers prefer to be called `baby zoomers,'" he said. "They're flying, they're traveling, they're in high gear. They have the freedom without the kids they didn't have before."

Active adult housing may be increasing in popularity, said Honeygo resident John S. Walker, but that doesn't explain why it has to be built in a part of the county that spent years establishing strict design standards.

The proposed development doesn't include enough open space, and it doesn't complement surrounding land uses, Walker said.

And as a gated community, it violates a dictum from the county's Comprehensive Manual of Development Policies: "Walled-off subdivisions without connections to the open space system and adjacent neighborhoods are antithetical to the Honeygo design concept."

G. Scott Barhight, a Towson lawyer who is representing Guidace, said there's no reason not to build the development in Honeygo, where planned unit developments are allowed by law.

"Honeygo is a large area. [Banning planned unit developments] would be the same as if we said we're going to have legislation that says we're going to ban grocery stores or ban barber shops. If you want the people who live there today to remain there and not live out of the community, you have to provide a variety of housing types to do that," Barhight said. "This type of housing is not in Honeygo."

Proposal problems

But the proposal has some problems, Williams said. Many of its amenities would be built on land owned by the county, not the developer, and some of the units would sit atop a sewer line planned for the area.

Barhight said the developer is aware of those issues and will seek a land swap and realignment of the sewer line. If the county refuses, the developer will alter the plan, he said.

That offers little comfort to opponents.

"I think the current proposal is dead on arrival," Marks said. "We're concerned the developer will modify the proposal and perhaps eliminate the condos but still go in for increased density, then be able to say he listened to the community's comments."

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