Senior housing project OK'd for `floating district'

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

A developer with enough projects in the works to single-handedly create a senior-housing boom in Howard County won permission from the Zoning Board last night to use a new "floating district" that will let him build a large community for older adults in Waverly Woods.

Donald R. Reuwer Jr., project manager for the proposed northern Howard development, is the first to take advantage of regulations approved by the County Council last year that are designed to keep active adults ages 55 and older from leaving the area - and taking their money with them.

Howard County has only one for-purchase community restricted to seniors, but developers are hoping to build a lot more: At least 10 projects are in the works, half of which are Reuwer's.

His Courtyards at Waverly Woods proposal - which has not attracted the intense opposition that much smaller senior projects have - calls for 325 apartments and townhouses. Zoning Board members, who also make up the County Council, voted 4-0 for the project, with one member absent.

"We have our first planned senior community on its way," said Zoning Board Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung.

"I have picked out my unit already," joked C. Vernon Gray, one of the board members.

The Planned Senior Community floating district is an overlay zone that can be used if public water and sewer are available and if other conditions are right. County officials anticipate a growing need for such homes, which each require at least one resident 55 or older.

That age group is expected to shoot to 31 percent of the population in 2020, compared with 15 percent in 2000.

Eager to keep these residents in Howard, county officials have offered a benefit to developers if they win permission to use the floating senior zone: They can build up to eight dwelling units an acre, more than most zoning allows.

The Courtyards at Waverly Woods will be big, but not as dense as conventional townhouse and apartment zoning allows. Units will be clustered on a 54-acre parcel surrounded by the Waverly Woods golf course, at Marriottsville Road near Route 99.

The plans call for gated entrances; a 6,600-square-foot community center and an outdoor pool; 129 townhouse-style buildings dubbed "garage villas" for their one- and two-car garages; and 196 apartments, divided among 13 three- or four-story buildings. Reuwer expects the homes to sell for about $180,000 to $400,000, with some subsidized for moderate-income seniors.

Rusty Toler, 51, an Ellicott City resident who until recently was chairman of the Howard County Commission on Aging, said he thought the project stands as a model for other proposals.

"It puts seniors in a central part of the community," he said.

One resident, Ralph Ballman of Ellicott City, hoped Marriottsville Road could be improved before the development is built and brings more traffic to the area. "It's a heavily traveled road," he noted.

Marriottsville residents were horrified by an earlier rezoning request by Reuwer, who wanted to change a 2.4-acre lot on Marriottsville Road to allow commercial development and was thinking of building a gas station there. The Zoning Board did not allow the change.

But at least some of those neighbors don't mind Reuwer's plans for senior housing nearby.

"I'd rather have a senior housing complex there with all the nice amenities that go with something like that than to see offices and retail areas," said Jack Butler of Marriottsville, who opposed the gas station proposal. "It'll generate less traffic overall."

Reuwer estimated that work on the project could begin in 12 to 24 months. "I'm very happy," he added. "I guess now comes the real challenge - to live up to what we've promised."

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