Developer plans 160-unit complex for senior citizens in Ellicott City

Montgomery Road project well-received by neighbors

August 17, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A developer wants to build a 160-unit senior housing complex on a stretch of Montgomery Road in Ellicott City that was the object three years ago of a fierce community effort to block a giant home-improvement store.

No opposition to J. Chris Pippen's newest plan has surfaced, and officials said it should not affect Howard County's so far stymied efforts to carve out enough land for a new elementary school from nearby V.F.W. Post 7472 and the county's YMCA branch.

"I really don't have any objection to the housing," said Jack Reeder, a trustee of Bethel Baptist Church, which is next to the site. Reeder attended a community meeting about the plans Aug. 6. "I would not be against senior housing."

The sometimes competing interests of the various landowners along the 4200 block of Montgomery Road, opposite the National Guard Armory and Long Gate Shopping Center, have proved a sticky thicket for developers, county officials and residents. The senior housing plan is just one ingredient in the mix.

The county school board has been trying for months to negotiate the purchase of about 14 acres owned by the VFW Post, just behind the senior housing site, and about 7 acres of YMCA land adjoining it for an elementary school, which is needed to relieve crowding.

The nonprofit "Y" wants to expand and improve its aging facility, but needs money from the land sale to finance the work. Meanwhile, Troy S. Weaver, executive director of the YMCA, said the senior housing would "be a pretty good neighbor" and fit well with services the "Y" offers.

But David Catania, adjutant of the VFW, said the YMCA is blocking the school project by asking too high a price for its land - roughly double the $250,000 an acre he said it is worth. The VFW land, which does not front on Montgomery Road, would sell for about $125,000 an acre, he said.

"The community wants [the land] for a school. I wish they [YMCA] would sell for the school," Catania said.

Weaver refused to discuss negotiations. "That's his opinion," Weaver said about Catania's analysis of the land values, though sources in the school system confirmed that the YMCA's asking price is blocking the sale.

Pippen told the community gathering Aug. 6 that construction for the senior housing would not likely begin on the 7.3-acre site for at least four years. He added that a decision will come on whether the 50-foot-high buildings would be sold as condominiums or rented as apartments.

The complex would include 14 moderate-income units and, if condominiums are built, the roughly 1,800-square-foot market rate units would sell for up to $300,000 in today's dollars. If built as rentals, the apartments would be smaller - about 1,000 square feet each. The project would include a 2,221-square- foot community center, according to plans filed with the county.

Neighborhood leaders, who won a major victory in 2001 when a complicated land deal to build a Lowe's store nearby was blocked by the Baptist church, are not complaining about senior housing.

The county's comprehensive rezoning, enacted Feb. 3, designated the land - which is between an Exxon gas station and Bethel Baptist Church - for residential use. Two older homes occupy the land now.

"The developer is proceeding in good faith," said Catania, who is also an activist in the Montgomery Road Citizens for Responsible Growth. "That's the important issue - that it remains residential. Residential will work there."

County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who represents the area, said he would have preferred a mixture of professional offices and housing on Montgomery Road. That way, he said, closed offices on weekends would ease traffic congestion.

"I wanted to see a little more of what we see in Dorsey Hall," he said, but the County Council approved senior/institutional housing for the site, which allows up to 25 units an acre.

Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said residential zoning "was what the citizens wanted."

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