Panel criticizes plan for homes in Ellicott City

Development to be built in historic district

Proposed houses not `compatible'

Builder can withdraw proposal or request vote

Howard County

January 12, 2004|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Historic District Commission left developer Michael L. Pfau with few options after its members delivered strongly worded critiques of the fourth set of designs he submitted for his 15-home development in Ellicott City's historic district.

Although panel members said the designs showed improvement over the plans they reviewed in October, they told Pfau at a hearing last week that they were still incompatible with the century-old homes that line upper Church Road.

"I tend to think these are tract homes; I see the deck and the sliding door," said commission member Robert Williams after three hours of testimony. "I have no idea what this community's going to look like, and that bothers me."

"There's no concept, no big idea," added commission member John Chalk. "That site plan is one of the worst site plans I've ever seen."

The response pleased about a dozen Church Road residents who attended the hearing and who have vehemently opposed the development for four years - through the county subdivision process to an appeal at the Circuit Court level.

For Pfau, president of Trinity Homes Inc., the panel's critical comments mean that he can either withdraw the designs by tomorrow or call for the commission to vote on them.

"Mr. Pfau is dizzy with the process we've been through," Pfau's lawyer, David Carney, told the commission after the hearing. "We need to confer and get back to you."

Pfau declined to comment on the commission's critique.

He must obtain the commission's design approval before he can begin construction of The Woods at Park Place.

Although the commission had serious problems with Pfau's designs, a staff report issued last week by the county's Department of Planning and Zoning recommended that the commission approve the plans with some minor changes.

"I can understand [Pfau's] frustration," said Church Road resident Gary Segal, an organizer of the neighborhood opposition. "From my perspective, it's very clear what needs to be done, but I'm not sitting in his shoes."

Effort commended

Commission members told Pfau that he was headed in the right direction but urged him to bring more creativity and diversity to his designs to fit in with the century-old homes that line the neighborhood.

"I commend you for the effort, but it's not, in my estimation, compatible with the criteria and standards of the HDC," said commission member and architect Neil Lang.

The commission oversees repair, renovation and new construction in the county's two historic districts, including design and materials.

The Woods at Park Place presents a challenge to the panel because it is the first time the commission has had to ensure that a new subdivision is consistent with the architecture and design of the original Church Road homes.

Shared concerns

In general, the commissioners echoed the concerns of the Church Road residents: the houses were too big for the small lots, the attached garages were unsightly and the houses had a homogenous quality.

"The homes are not different enough to make them individual," Lang said. "It's kind of a piecemeal approach. This requires common sense, siting, architectural detail."

The residents' main complaint with the proposed designs is the large size of the homes on small lots.

"Please ask Trinity Homes to reconsider the impact of 15 large boxes in such a small area," Church Road resident Jamie Wendell told the commission.

Carney told panel members that Pfau needs more direction from them to come up with a suitable design.

"If you want an 80- or a 100-year-old house replicated, then he needs to know that," he said.

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