Howard housing plan causes strife

3rd session on proposal for senior apartments set

August 16, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A third Howard County zoning board session tonight will try to achieve what two marathon, post-midnight meetings failed to reach last week: a decision on a proposed four-story apartment building for moderate-income seniors in Waverly Woods.

After 10 residents of the expensive golf course community assailed the plan for the 102-unit structure at Thursday night's meeting as too big, with too little parking and too-small apartments, and as a threat to their property values, County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, cautioned the audience about the board's role.

Noting that more than 800 residents signed a petition opposing the building, he said the near-unanimity would have no impact.

"In my mind, if 100 percent were opposed but the project meets the criteria," he would be forced to vote for approval, Merdon said, because the zoning board acts in a judicial capacity, not a legislative one.

"Regardless of my political future, I'll be looking at the criteria," he said, adding that he hasn't prejudged the issue.

The zoning board, which is composed of County Council members, must decide whether the proposed building is compatible with others in Waverly Woods, or is too large.

Testimony by several opponents Thursday night might have inadvertently undermined their argument

Louis Reymann testified he lives in a 70-unit condominium building that is about 44 feet high, compared with the 50-foot height proposed for the new building. The problem, he said, is that the Waverly Gardens building for moderate-income seniors would sit on higher ground and would dominate the landscape, while his building sits in a lower place.

But board Chairman Ken Ulman, a West Columbia Democrat, said that he couldn't see much difference between the heights of the two buildings.

Merdon agreed. "I'm having to struggle with three stories vs. four stories," he said. "There's not much difference."

Residents of the community along Interstate 70 in western Ellicott City said they want developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. to stick to the original plan to separate the required moderate-income units at three sites, including two projects for "active" seniors age 55 and older planned elsewhere in the 1,363-home development.

On the 2.3 acres proposed for the building, the residents want an older plan for a three-story building with 60 condominiums - including 30 units for moderate-income seniors.

The residents deny their opposition is based on fear of subsidized housing, although Waverly Woods' developers say that's exactly the problem.

The developers and county housing officials said they want seniors age 62 and older in one building because it would be easier to provide services, common rooms for meals and socializing, and the location is convenient for walking to the nearby shopping center and golf course. Rents would range up to $925 a month for people with annual incomes under $45,000 for the 86 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom units.

Irene Dandridge, 69, a former president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she believes placing all the moderate-income seniors in one building would lead to "segregated housing," whether by "age, race, or whatever."

The protesting residents also want the apartments to be sold as condominiums, but Reuwer told the zoning board members that lower-income seniors would not be able to afford maintenance fees. As rental units, the developer would control the building.

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