Developer alters townhouse proposal

Senior housing plan raises concerns about traffic, view

January 16, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Taking some of his opponents' suggestions to heart, a developer who wants to build 35 townhouses in Ellicott City tinkered with his plans for the seniors-only project before presenting them to a Howard County land-use panel last night.

It's not all that residents had hoped for - many are still dismayed by the idea of higher-density housing in their neighborhood of modest ranchers - but developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr.'s changes would address some of their concerns about traffic and view.

He is seeking permission from the county Board of Appeals to build townhouses with garages on 7 acres between Route 104 and Grove Angle Road. Homes in the Courtyards of Ellicott Mills, for active adults ages 55 and older, would sell for about $200,000, he estimated.

As of 9:15 last night, the board had not voted on the proposal.

Reuwer said he liked some of the neighbors' requests. He said he changed the plans so the development's community center would sit along Route 104, creating the illusion of a single-family house to hide the townhouses behind it.

He also broke up several long rows of townhouses, and told the board that he would barricade one end of the development's road to keep the extra traffic off Grove Angle.

But those changes - along with five Reuwer made to get in line with recommendations from the county Planning Board in November - added a kink to the proceedings that illustrates one reason developers don't often take suggestions.

If a proposal is altered "substantively," it must be kicked back to the beginning of the development approval process for another review by the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

"It's an amended plan," noted Robert C. Sharps, the Board of Appeals chairman.

"We thought it would be helpful," Reuwer responded - adding that he would rather stick with the original proposal if it was the only way to avoid a trip back to the planners.

Ultimately, the board decided the project was not substantively altered.

`Welcome changes'

"I think they're welcome changes," said board member Bill Waff.

Neighbors are upset about the plans, but they are also pragmatic. Believing they could not successfully contest the project because county regulations give them no leverage, residents met with Reuwer to ask for improvements.

"We're not unreasonable people, and we're not opposed to senior housing," said Donna Mennitto, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and is helping lead the opposition.

But Mennitto, a former Howard County planner, said she does not think Reuwer meets the intent of the senior-housing regulations because his townhouses will have two stories rather than one.

"We can only appeal for a common-sense interpretation of the zoning regulations," she said.

Reuwer told the board that two stories is typical in seniors-only developments.

"I've visited a lot of projects," he said. "Most everyone opts for the second floor."

Traffic issues

Mennitto and her neighbors are also uneasy about the specter of increased traffic on the road that is their only way in and out. Reuwer said he has no intention of connecting his development to Grove Angle Road, but they want the board to look ahead to what's in the works.

If two nearby parcels are developed, as is expected, residents want the newcomers to enter and leave using Reuwer's proposed road rather than Grove Angle. Reuwer said he will allow the connection if senior housing is built on the parcels - he has talked to the landowners about buying their property - but neighbors hope the Board of Appeals requires that connection no matter what development goes in.

Mennitto said she is upset that the county Department of Planning and Zoning did not tell Reuwer to wait until he has all the land he is going to get in the neighborhood and then propose a full development plan.

"This is only phase one," she said.

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