Howard housing proposal praised

Affordable units to be built above stores along U.S. 1

A `pioneering project'

July 26, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Building modestly priced apartments for middle-income people above retail stores is an old idea, but it's nearly revolutionary these days in high-rent Howard County.

"It hasn't happened in Howard County, except on Main Street [in Ellicott City]. It has worked in places for hundreds of years," said county housing Director Leonard S. Vaughan.

With new luxury apartments renting for about $1,800, county officials are welcoming a local developer's proposal to build 80 apartments with $700 to $800 a month rents above stores along U.S. 1 in North Laurel. It is one of three proposed mixed residential/commercial projects they hope will help restore the East Coast's oldest commercial highway corridor to a new vitality.

"It's the kind of pioneering project others can look to," said County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat who represents the southern end of the corridor.

"This piece of property has lain vacant for years," he said, adding that it will provide "an opportunity for people who do service jobs in our community to live in our community."

Housing inflation in Howard County has priced out many people in the $35,000 to $50,000 income bracket, Vaughan said.

"I'd say some new police officers would probably move in there in a heartbeat," said James F. Fitzgerald, president of the Howard County Police Officers Association, Local 86.

The lower rents are possible through tax credits extended by the state for up to half the construction cost, Vaughan said.

The three projects are the first responses to a yearlong study and rezoning along Howard's 10-mile portion of U.S. 1 that provided incentives for builders to create new urban-style uses.

The projects also help solve a problem that revitalization will create -- finding moderate-rent homes for people living in trailer parks and older homes along U.S. 1 who will be displaced by the new projects the county government is promoting.

"It's definitely a valuable relocation resource," Vaughan said.

Tight controls

The county tightly controls the number of homes allowed to be built each year, but it created Corridor Activity Center zones that allow higher density and mixes of commercial and residential uses. The county then reserved up to 250 precious housing allocations annually for U.S. 1 projects.

"It's definitely what we were hoping we would see -- a variety of approaches," said county planning Director Marsha S. McLaughlin, who added that the North Laurel project's L-shaped design is "very attractive."

Vaughan and other officials are particularly happy about Earl Arminger's idea for homes above 14,500 square feet of store space at 9902 Washington Blvd., because Arminger is voluntarily making all his one- and two-bedroom units for moderate-income renters.

`We're not large'

"Since I've been building in Howard County [25 years] I've been trying to do affordable housing," said Arminger, president of Orchard Development Corp. in Howard County. "We're not large. We have to do things that everyone else is not doing."

Besides, Scott Arminger, Earl's son and company vice president, said: "We think we can get the approvals fairly quickly, whereas if we were waiting for normal housing allocations it would just be a struggle."

The other two projects are larger but stick to the county requirement for 15 percent moderate-income units for a combined total of about 90 residences.

One, called Elkridge Crossing, would occupy 26 acres on the west side of U.S. 1 north of Montgomery Road in Elkridge, where the old Elkridge Drive-in movie once operated.

The three-phase project by the Brantley Development Group would include 362 housing units, and 126,000 square feet of office-retail space. The commercial buildings would be closest to roads, buffering the residences.

The other, called Deep Run Crossing, would go up on 27.8 acres on the east side of U.S. 1 across from the new Troy Hill Business Park north of Route 100. Peter Voelkel, a North Carolina developer, would provide 318 housing units and 70,000 square feet of commercial space, again with the commercial buildings shielding the apartments and condos from traffic.

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