Ellicott City townhouse plan wins appeals panel approval

Condominiums to be sold to `active adults' ages 55 and older

January 17, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Howard County's Board of Appeals has cleared the way for construction of a controversial townhouse project proposed for an Ellicott City neighborhood of modest, ranch homes.

Upset neighbors, who resigned themselves to this outcome several weeks ago, had worked out some design compromises with the developer but hoped the board would require more of the "active adult" community. Many thought one-story buildings would make more sense for aging adults than the two-story units developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. intends to build.

But the land-use panel, which approved the plans unanimously late Tuesday night, let Reuwer's project stand as is without requiring additional changes. He had already altered his original concept to address some of the concerns from residents about traffic and view, and he also incorporated five recommendations from the county Planning Board.

"It was a well-developed plan," Reuwer's attorney, Ronald L. Spahn, said yesterday. "It's a winner. I think there are enough [aging] people in the area who want to stay in the area but don't want to keep up a house."

The Courtyards of Ellicott Mills will bring 35 townhouses, managed as condominiums, to 7 acres between Route 104 and Grove Angle Road. The development is for adults ages 55 and older - at least one person in each home must comply with that age restriction - and will include home security protection, a putting green and a one-year membership in the nearby YMCA.

The project required permission as a "conditional use" from the Board of Appeals because developers can build more homes per acre when they build them for residents ages 55 and older. The County Council approved that as an incentive to developers so Howard's senior population - which is about to expand rapidly with the addition of baby-boomers - won't move out of the area in search of smaller homes.

Though residents were relieved by some of Reuwer's changes, their main desires were not fulfilled.

Residents could not convince the board that one-story homes better meet the spirit of the senior-housing regulations than homes with two stories and stairs.

"They look like they're going to be wonderful townhomes, but not designed to meet the needs of aging seniors," said Misty Lawrence, who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years.

Spahn argued that people in Reuwer's target market have shown through their buying choices that they like two-story homes.

"It gives more flexibility," he said.

Resident Donna Mennitto, a former Howard County planner, had also wanted to ensure that neither the Courtyards of Ellicott Mills nor development expected on nearby parcels would send additional traffic onto narrow, winding Grove Angle Road.

Reuwer offered a partial solution. He promised to initially barricade the end of the private road through his development so the newcomers would not use Grove Angle. And he said he would let the two nearby parcels connect to the Courtyard's road if they also are used for senior housing. But if the landowners build regular homes instead, they will have to use Grove Angle, he said.

That dismays residents, who think the decades-old road network out of the neighborhood is already unsafe.

Lawrence said she appreciates that Reuwer was "very open and honest" about his plans and what he was willing to change. It's the process that frustrates her.

"The big problem is the way that the council has set this up to work, as a conditional use with few restrictions," she said. "It really seems that there is no real planning that goes on, no big-picture planning. It's all just about minimum compliance."

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