Howard looks to golf turf for homes

Two sites weigh building moderate-income housing

Courses `not carrying ... weight'

November 10, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The quest to provide affordable housing in Howard County has reached a new frontier: the fairway.

Builders for Waverly Woods, a mixed-use community and golf course on the western edge of Ellicott City, are seeking federal tax credits for 102 moderately priced senior apartments.

And just a chip shot away, Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center - Howard's only planned golf course community zone - has agreed to include moderate-income housing if the County Council agrees to increase the number of units it can build.

"We'll see if there's a place or not for it," said Lou Mangione, vice president for development of Mangione Family Enterprises, which owns Turf Valley.

With the average price of a single-family home in Howard topping $300,000, officials and affordable-housing activists are struggling to find ways to meet the needs of essential workers, families and seniors in this affluent county.

The 2000 General Plan recommended encouraging housing that essential workers, such as teachers and firefighters, could afford. Through the county's decennial comprehensive rezoning process, the Department of Planning and Zoning suggested moderate-income housing requirements for a number of higher-density residential districts, such as apartments and townhomes.

"The county's own efforts through its planning and zoning process put this in motion," said Andre De Verneil, a Columbia resident and member of the Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing, which formed this year.

"If we don't have the provisions of the zoning, with the redevelopment of Howard County we could have a community of only wealthy individuals," said Leonard S. Vaughan, county housing director.

Golf courses are increasingly looking toward residential development as a source of income, said David Nissenson, senior associate in the recreation real estate division of the national consulting firm Economics Research Associates, based in Washington.

"Golf itself is not carrying its own weight anymore," he said.

Not everyone who chooses to live in such a community is a golfer. Only about a quarter of residents typically play the game, he said. Some are looking for a promise of a preserved scenic view - one they don't have to mow.

And with developers adding a range of housing styles, it's not just the choice of the empty-nester, Nissenson said.

Consolidated plans

At least 10 percent of a planned senior community district, such as the two districts at Waverly, must be affordable, according to the zoning requirements.

When Waverly, a large, mixed-use community, was approved in the 1990s, the developers also agreed that 10 percent of the garden units in the community's condominiums would be affordable, said Donald R. Reuwer Jr., one of the developers.

But "when the condos were built, they became very upscale," he said. "Condo fees alone made them unaffordable."

The Waverly builders, working with the county Office of Housing and Community Development, consolidated the 10 percent requirement for both senior communities as well as the garden units in a proposal to construct 102 units within walking distance of a grocery store, Reuwer said.

Rent will average $400, said Jared Spahn of Old Town Construction, the general contractor for the $14 million project. Waverly developers hope the building will be ready for residents by summer 2005.

Rent or prices for moderate-income housing units are based on a percentage of the median income for a given area, Vaughan said. And the public won't be able to tell this is moderate-income housing, he said.

"It will be on a level greater, if not equal, to any market-rate building in Howard," Spahn said.

Golf community zone

On the south side of Interstate 70, Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Nicholas Mangione purchased Turf Valley in 1978, intending to develop it residentially, said his son Lou.

In the early 1980s, Turf Valley petitioned Howard County to create a golf course community zone, which would allow for a variety of homes and commercial and office space around two golf courses, or an equivalent amount of open space.

But the landscape of the Baltimore metropolitan area changed and golf courses popped up nearby. The increased competition prompted Turf Valley to close this year a third golf course, which was constructed in the 1990s.

"On our three golf courses, we were getting the number of rounds that one golf course could handle," Lou Mangione said.

"It wasn't a fair return on the dollar when you had this development potential looking at you," he added.

Still, golf remains the priority. "We're always concerned about the impact on the golf course," he said. "That will be the No. 1 parameter for us as we go through this development."

Increasing density

Originally, Turf Valley intended to build 1,200 to 1,600 units in townhouses, single-family detached houses and low- and mid-rise condominiums on about 400 acres of the more than 800-acre property.

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