Developer seeks cut in commercial land in Waverly Woods

Reuwer's request made to allow the building of 350 seniors-only homes

January 30, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Waverly Woods' developer wants to slash the amount of commercially zoned land in the mixed-use community nearly in half to make way for 350 seniors-only homes.

Donald R. Reuwer Jr. of Land Design and Development asked the Zoning Board last night to allow the residences on a 151-acre property now zoned for business uses. The single-family houses and townhouses would be restricted to active adults ages 55 and older.

The site sits to the west of Marriottsville Road, cradled on two sides by the Howard County landfill. To the east is the Waverly Woods golf course and a planned seniors-only complex of 325 apartments and townhouses.

Waverly Woods, a 680-acre community that straddles Marriottsville Road between Ellicott City and the Baltimore County line, has 330 acres of commercial land - a nearly even split between business and residential. property. If the Zoning Board approves Reuwer's request, about three-quarters of the development would be reserved for homes.

The board - made up of the five county councilmen - had not voted on the proposal by 9 p.m. Reuwer had just begun his testimony, and more than a half-dozen residents with concerns were waiting in the wings.

The common rule of thumb is that homes are a drain on local resources and businesses are a gain, although active senior housing is increasingly seen by counties as an economic benefit because its residents will not use the expensive services of the public schools.

But Reuwer is making an unusual argument: He says his senior houses would leave the county better off than businesses would - to the tune of $1.6 million a year.

"The units are very, very upscale," he said last night.

Joseph M. Cronyn, a Columbia real estate consultant who conducted a fiscal analysis for Reuwer, argues that the county's per capita expense for senior citizens and workers is the same, about $400 a year. He concluded that - after expenses - the proposed senior housing would give the county almost $1.8 million a year from property and income taxes while an employment complex would offer just $126,600 in revenue.

The single-family homes are expected to sell for $400,000 and the townhouses - called "villas" in the proposal - for $330,000.

American Farmland Trust, which calculated the median "cost of community services" from more than 95 studies of communities nationwide, found that residential development cost governments $1.16 for every dollar it brought in, while commercial and industrial development require 27 cents in services per dollar paid in taxes.

Howard County has not done a study that detailed, but officials are offering incentives to develop senior housing - allowing more homes per acre - because they know it is a tax boon compared to regular homes. The local government spends half its operating funds on schools, many of which are filled to bursting.

Still, Jeff Bronow, chief of research for the county Department of Planning and Zoning, is not comfortable declaring senior housing more tax efficient than businesses.

"People require more services than industrial and commercial," he said. "Eighty percent of the calls for service generally come from homes."

Some of the residents opposed to the proposal wonder why Reuwer would build houses close to a landfill, but he argued that the landfill has largely turned into a transfer station where trash is shipped out of the county.

"We kept very significant buffers around it," he added.

Dick Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, cannot comment on individual zoning cases, but noted that his quasi-public agency sees the future of business development in the large mixed-use centers of Maple Lawn Farms and Emerson, as well as in redevelopment of the U.S. 1 corridor.

"On the other hand, we are doing a very careful inventory of major pieces of employment land because we're running out of land for all uses," Story said. "We want to preserve as much as we can for employment."

Reuwer said 300,000 square feet of business space will be built in Waverly Woods - down from the 1 million square feet originally approved - plus a 50,000-square-foot fitness facility next to the proposed senior units that the Zoning Board is considering.

"We never had any magic number," he said of the mix in Waverly Woods. "It's all been revenue-driven - county tax revenues."

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