Friends of Font Hill to widen protest over senior housing

Inappropriate settings for such projects the target

January 16, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

As residents of neighborhoods around Centennial Lane protest a proposed senior housing development on nearby Frederick Road in Ellicott City, they also are organizing a campaign aimed at preventing similar projects in other neighborhoods in the future.

Friends of Font Hill banded together last month to oppose a proposal by Kimberly Homes to build a 30-unit townhouse complex for adults ages 55 and older on a little less than 7 acres just east of Font Hill Drive.

They fear the potential effects that special zoning for senior housing could have on other parts of the county, particularly western Howard, said Patrick Crowe, one of the leaders of the group.

Members of the group's legislative committee met Tuesday with County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon and Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of planning and zoning.

Merdon agreed to sponsor legislation to increase the minimum number of units in age-restricted senior housing developments from 20 to 50, thus limiting available potential sites. He said more than 100 people had called his office in favor of such a change.

As the county's residents age, officials want to encourage older adults to stay in Howard, thus keeping taxpayers without overburdening local schools.

Although areas such as Font Hill are zoned to allow about two houses an acre, zoning to increase the availability of housing for seniors would permit up to five houses an acre.

The Font Hill residents feel that the denser housing would not harmonize with the aesthetics of their single-family homes on lots of a half-acre or more. They also believe the extra homes would strain roads clogged with rush hour traffic.

In 2001, then-County Councilman C. Vernon Gray sponsored an amendment to a major zoning bill that reduced the minimum number of units for senior housing to 20 and was supported by the two other Democratic members of the council.

Merdon and Councilman Allan H. Kittleman voted against the amendment.

"If we didn't have senior housing on these parcels we would end up with family housing, which would have greater impact on schools," Gray said. "The parcel is going to be developed; that's the point."

"A lot of times when we make changes like that, we're not exactly sure what the impact will be," Merdon said. "It takes a project like this to realize that it's probably not appropriate to build [townhouses for seniors] on a patch of land that's not appropriate to the neighborhood."

The Friends of Font Hill also wanted to increase the spacing between senior housing facilities and existing homes to more than the current 50 feet.

Crowe was concerned about a lack of recreation facilities, but Merdon felt that increasing the minimum number of units would address that problem.

He said the group is not against housing for senior citizens - as long as the development matches the surrounding community.

"We still need to make sure these projects are viable," Merdon cautioned. "We don't want it to get so restrictive that it's impossible" to build senior housing anywhere.

More than 100 people attended a county hearing Jan. 8 on the Kimberly Homes proposal. The hearing will continue Feb. 19.

Robert Weaver, the first witness for the residents, lives adjacent to the Kimberly Homes site and is an architect for Erickson retirement communities.

Weaver raised concerns about the effect on the surrounding community and about the architectural renderings of the community center, which show landscaping but not the townhouses in the background.

"There is one thing for artistic license, but this crosses the threshold," he said.

In addition, the community center is not much larger than the living rooms of the units, he said.

"They could just invite neighbors over for the same size space," Weaver said.

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