Panel OKs Cattail project

Senior housing approved, despite residents' protests

`Groundbreaking decision'


November 22, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Howard County Board of Appeals members have cleared the way for a much-contested project that would introduce the first townhouses to the rural western county.

The Villas at Cattail Creek, an upscale development for active senior citizens, calls for 116 townhouse-style condominium units on 58 acres near Cattail Creek Country Club in Glenwood. Three years after the board approved a similar plan, only to see it kicked back by an appeals court, members gave their blessing to an on-site dining facility that developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. had added to the plan to meet a county zoning requirement.

Residents have fought the project through its twists and turns, contending that such density is out of place amid western Howard's single-family houses. That argument irks people involved with the development.

"All we're doing is what we're permitted to do by law," David Carney, Reuwer's attorney, said yesterday. "You know something? People are going to be raving about this when it's built."

He compared the planned houses with homes in Turf Valley, a country club community. But it is not architecture that residents say they are worried about.

"I think this is a groundbreaking decision that is going to change the rural character of the west," said Dave Hinton of Glenwood, who intends to move his family out of the county in several years so they will not have to live with the effects.

Other residents, who said they learned of the proposal only recently, had asked the board Tuesday night to delay its decision. But the case has a long history.

In January last year, more than a year after the board approved a similar proposal, Howard Circuit Court overturned the decision, finding that Reuwer's plan to have residents use a country club dining area did not meet county requirements for an on-site facility.

In June, Reuwer persuaded the state Court of Special Appeals to send the Villas at Cattail Creek back to the county board so it could consider the dining issue. He offered board members a new plan for a community building without a food preparation area, but which would offer service enabling residents to order food from a West Friendship caterer.

Interpreting the appeals court ruling as an admonition to consider only the dining issue instead of starting anew, Board of Appeals members repeatedly asked residents Tuesday night to stay focused. Opponents, who tried to introduce density and traffic concerns, left frustrated.

"It made us feel like there was no real reason to go there other than to let a few people blow off steam," said Paul Tetro of Columbia, whose family is preparing to build a house near the Villas at Cattail Creek parcel.

The board voted 4-0 Tuesday night - the board chairman was absent - to approve the dining facility, finding that Reuwer met the criteria set by the county. In the process, board members granted him a special exception for senior housing that allows him to build the project.

"They didn't see any reason why they should turn it down," said Joe Carta, who lives on a small farm near the Villas at Cattail Creek site. "We told them all kinds of reasons."

Carta said he will let his attorney decide whether to appeal the board's decision. But he's ready for another round.

"I want to keep fighting it," he said. "If it happens, it happens. But I'm going to do my best to stop it."

Carta said that a density of two units an acre - in an area where each house requires 4.25 acres - is bound to cause a problem. He said it is only a matter of time before some wells go dry, and he is worried the septic system will be overwhelmed.

Carney vehemently rejects the suggestion that the project is on shaky ground. He said the parcel has wells with twice as much water as is needed, and he said the development will use a septic system that pretreats and breaks down sewage before sending it to the septic field - a system praised by the state Department of the Environment.

Carney said he is tired of hearing people associate the Villas plan with Glenelg High School's failing septic system. He argued that the school's septic system is decades old and "entirely different."

"It was a Model-T compared to a 2002 car," he said.

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