Residents vow to challenge Pfau in court

Development rights in historic district at issue, lawyer says

`It's a major intrusion'

October 09, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A group who live in Ellicott City's historic district are vowing to challenge in court a proposed subdivision near their home, despite a setback at the county Board of Appeals last week.

A year-and-a-half-long battle over development rights and the sanctity of the historic district will head next to Circuit Court, said attorney Robert C. Brown, who represents opponents of the proposed development, called the Woods of Park Place.

The Board of Appeals voted 4-0 Thursday night to deny the residents' appeal of the earlier decision to permit the 15-house development. In January, the county Planning Board unanimously approved the subdivision, which would cluster the houses on 6 acres of the 15-acre tract and would leave the rest of the land wooded.

Zoning regulations permit up to 20 homes on the site, at Church Road and Park Drive. But residents contend that even 15 houses are too many for the parcel. Tucked into a hilltop neighborhood with an average lot size of about 2 1/2 acres and a variety of architectural styles, the Woods of Park Place would be out of place, residents say.

"It's a major intrusion into the historic district," Brown said yesterday. "They're putting a generic subdivision with clustered housing at the intersection of two scenic roads."

The Woods of Park Place's developer, Michael L. Pfau, said his houses would be at least 85 feet from the roads, shielded from view by trees. He said the architecture will be in keeping with the historic district.

"The residents really only want four homes there, or five," he said. "They just want to take away any development rights that are granted under the law."

Pfau said he wasn't surprised to hear that neighbors - known for vigorous fights against development that they deem inappropriate - are appealing. He said he is confident the Circuit Court will sees things his way, noting that no one on the Planning Board or the Board of Appeals voted to deny his subdivision.

Government offices were closed yesterday for Columbus Day, and the county's solicitors could not be reached for comment. But when they approved the subdivision in January, Planning Board members said Pfau met their criteria.

"I think it's a good plan," board member Florenzia W. Davis said at that meeting. "I understand the community's objection, and I can feel your pain - but under the current regulations, what we have to make our decision on, I don't see how I can deny it."

Brown argued at the Board of Appeals meeting last week that other county regulations besides the Planning Board's criteria apply to the subdivision. Members did not take into account the impact 15 homes would have on Church Road and Park Drive, both scenic roads with some protection from county regulations, and they did not consider the impact to the historic district, he said.

Proposals that change the look of the 19th-century mill town - from construction to new signs - must go before the Historic District Commission for approval. But the Pfau proposal prompted an opinion from the county's Office of Law stating that the commission has no jurisdiction over "subdivision criteria" such as lot size or the number of houses. Instead, the commission must focus on issues such as architecture and landscaping, county solicitors wrote.

Brown, who disagrees with that opinion, said it concentrates too much power in the offices of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

"It really goes down to the basic way they do business here in Howard County," he said yesterday. "I think we have the law strongly on our side."

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