Font Hill residents to resume fight on senior housing plans

Opponents' next stop is county appeals board

Ellicott City

November 20, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Residents of an Ellicott City neighborhood who banded together to fight a proposed senior housing development in their community will continue their yearlong effort tonight as they make their case before the Howard County Board of Appeals.

Their opposition to a higher-density housing complex prompted a bill that has halted similar age-restricted housing developments in the county until the demand for and proper design of such complexes can be established.

The residents, who formed the Friends of Font Hill, will argue that the proposed villas for "active adults" would alter the character of their neighborhood of single-family homes and bring traffic that would overwhelm busy streets. They also are concerned about plans to eliminate trees that separate the new homes from their properties.

"It's not compatible with the surrounding community," said Robert Weaver, who lives adjacent to the proposed site on Frederick Road. "The removal of existing mature trees is going to have a very negative impact to all the surrounding neighbors."

Representatives of Kimberly Homes Ellicott Properties LLC first went before Howard's hearing examiner in December to seek "conditional use" permission to build 30 units for seniors on less than 7 acres off Frederick Road near Font Hill Drive.

More than 200 neighbors attended the first hearing examiner meetings. With nearly 69,000 people in Howard's population expected to hit age 60 by 2020, county officials hope to encourage seniors to "age in place" rather than retiring elsewhere and taking their tax dollars with them.

To create a variety of housing stock for empty-nesters interested in downsizing, county legislation offers a density benefit - allowing up to five units of housing for those 55 and older on each acre on land zoned for about two single-family homes per acre.

The bill, passed in 2001, originally required a minimum of 20 units. But after the Friends of Font Hill lobbied the Howard County Council, members amended the law in October, raising the minimum to 50 units to prevent complexes from being constructed on "infill" parcels smaller than 10 acres.

The amendment was designed to temporarily halt developments before county officials could complete a "senior housing master plan" detailing the demand for such units, as well as generating guidelines for their construction. Director of Citizen Services Manus O'Donnell said some preliminary meetings for the senior master plan have been held, but a report is not expected before the spring.

Advocates for seniors had denounced the amendment, saying it would substantially reduce the number of available parcels where such developments could be built.

The law would not affect the Kimberly Homes project, which began the application process before the restriction was enacted.

A number of Font Hill residents served as experts in support of the opposition, including several engineers and Weaver, an architect of senior housing communities.

Despite their efforts, county Hearing Examiner Thomas P. Carbo approved the application for the Kimberly Homes project in June, saying an age-restricted adult community could be built in a way that is compatible with a neighborhood of single-family homes.

"I think the hearing examiner saw the subdivision as something that was in the right," said Scott Wade, managing partner of Kimberly Homes.

In testimony last week before the Board of Appeals, Wade described the development as "villas - attached, small single-family homes, almost ranchers." Buyers will be able to choose an optional 200-square-foot second-floor loft for these units, which will range from 1,300 to 1,550 square feet and have a two-car garage.

Residents have criticized the project, describing it as squeezed onto the land and devoid of the types of amenities that "active adults" would seek.

But Wade said focus groups showed that potential buyers did not want to live in large communities - or contribute to services.

"They don't want to pay for a pool and massage therapy," Wade said.

The developer plans to provide more landscaping to buffer neighbors. Wade said he could not say for certain how many trees could be saved, but it was a priority.

"That's always been the intention - to create a parklike setting," Wade said.

Because Howard County allows two applications to be processed simultaneously on a property, Kimberly Homes is also pursuing plans to build 11 single-family homes. The houses, which would range from 2,100 to 2,800 square feet on 16,000- to 20,000-square-foot lots, would likely cost $400,000 or more, Wade said.

Residents say they support single-family homes.

"We think that it actually completes the development as it was originally intended," said Patrick Crowe, a leader of the Friends of Font Hill.

The board meeting will be held at 7:30 tonight at the George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City. Information: 410-313-2395.

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