Residents buck convention, become developer advocates

Howard neighbors support rezoning for senior housing

July 21, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The developer wants a zoning change and others don't, a saga as old as the suburbs.

This time, though, the time-worn roles are getting a twist.

The Howard County planning department is opposing a request to rezone a parcel in Elkridge even as neighbors line up to cheer the proposal, which calls for active-senior housing instead of office buildings.

Planners believe the land, near the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 100, is better suited for commercial development than some of the office-complex parcels nearby.

Howard Resneck, the developers' project manager, argues that the area feels more residential than was originally anticipated and the site, nearly surrounded by Timbers at Troy Golf Course, would be attractive to older adults.

Bucking zoning trends, four neighborhood groups are on board with the developers' plan, even though it would mean several hundred new neighbors.

Community leaders believe their streets would see fewer additional cars from senior housing than from offices. They are also delighted that the proposal would not likely end up crowding their children's schools -- nobody younger than 18 can live in senior residences for more than 90 days a year.

"Everybody's happy except the planning and zoning department," said supporter Howard Weinstein, president of the nearby Pembrooke Homeowners Association. "This kind of residential seems to be win-win. ... There was no reason for us to be against it."

Howard County residents usually oppose development requests, sometimes staying with the fight for years of complex meetings and court appeals. If they don't mind a new project, they stay home. Trooping to public hearings to voice support, as the Elkridge neighbors did, is practically unheard of.

"I can't think of any shining examples of where residents came out in support of a rezoning," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county's planning director.

"It's refreshing," said Resneck, who met with homeowners months ago about the request.

Howard County's Zoning Board could vote on the case as soon as Tuesday .

The 12.4-acre site in question is south of Marshalee Drive in the Lyndwood community, across the street from about 360 houses -- one of the neighborhoods supporting the rezoning request.

The land is owned by the two development companies that built Lyndwood together as the 100 Investment Limited Partnership. Resneck said they are negotiating with a builder to construct roughly 243 apartment-style condominium units, spread among nine buildings with elevators. The residents, 55 or older, would also get a clubhouse.

Rutter said this change would upset the balance of homes and businesses planned for the neighborhood. Building senior housing on the parcel would take away a "key" employment site close to two highways, he said.

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