Panel backs homes plan

Neighbors oppose proposed townhouses as too expensive

Board of Appeals has final OK

November 29, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Residents opposed to plans for 35 townhouses in their Ellicott City neighborhood aren't proffering the popular argument that the units will be too cheap for the community.

If anything, they think the townhouses - expected to sell for at least $210,000 - are too expensive. Their houses aren't mansions but modest ranchers built decades ago.

What brought residents out in force last night to protest the proposed Courtyards of Ellicott Mills at a county Planning Board meeting was the idea of 300 extra car trips every day on their only way out of the neighborhood, the narrow Grove Angle Road.

The development for active seniors, ages 55 and older, will have units with one-car and two-car garages.

"If you build garages, you're going to attract seniors with cars who drive," said Donna Mennitto, whose family has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years.

Developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. had asked for access to Route 104, a request the State Highway Administration denied at the beginning of the month. But the agency has reconsidered and no longer objects to the connection, although it has not formally given its approval.

Reuwer said he is in favor of barricading his development's connection to Grove Angle Road, to be used only if property owners across the street decide to build senior housing, too.

"We don't have any desire to use Grove Angle as an access," he said.

The project requires approval by the county Board of Appeals, which is scheduled to hear it Jan. 15.

Planning Board members, tacking on conditions to ensure that the development would not be built without access to Route 104, voted 4-1 to recommend that the Board of Appeals approve the plans.

Board member Gary Kaufman cast the dissenting vote.

"I just don't see that this would fit - personally - in this little cluster of a community," Kaufman said.

It is an opinion also voiced by most of the 30 residents who attended last night, some of whom said they moved into the quiet neighborhood with larger lots to get away from townhouses.

Joe Lough, who lives nearby and is thinking about developing his property, said he thought the development would be an improvement. The land is a magnet for drug users and troublemakers, Lough told the board.

"Right now, the property is a blight," he said.

The Courtyards of Ellicott Mills would be built on a 7-acre site zoned R-20, which usually allows about two homes an acre.

However, if the Board of Appeals grants Reuwer a conditional use for senior housing, a regulation designed to offer older residents more places to live in Howard, he can build up to five units an acre.

His plans call for "villas" with exteriors of stone and vinyl siding. Each unit would have two floors, with master bedrooms on the ground level. The development would also have an 800-square-foot community building, a croquet green and a putting green.

Many who attended the meeting said the plans do not strike them as particularly well-designed for the market - older adults looking to shed two-story houses for a place where they can age without fear of steps. They said they think their neighborhood's ranchers are better.

"It's going to be on two levels," resident Misty Lawrence said of the development. "Is that really senior housing?"

Said Mennitto: "This looks suspiciously like regular townhouses."

Reuwer responded that two-story homes for seniors are typical.

"If you did everything on the first floor, it's so much more expensive," he said. "You price people out of the market. ... That's why you don't see any ranchers [being built] anymore."

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