Apartments for seniors at Waverly Woods OK'd

Despite protests, board finds project compatible

Board OKs apartments for seniors at Waverly Woods

Ellicott City

August 24, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A hotly contested proposal to build a subsidized apartment house for seniors in Waverly Woods was approved on a 3-1 vote by the Howard County Zoning Board last night -- the climax to four long, impassioned August hearings that each drew more than 100 protesting residents.

Last night, developers' attorney David Carney said the board's decision was critical in determining whether moderate-income housing for people 62 and older is going to continue to be built in Howard, where six similar buildings exist.

"This case has become a test case," he said. "This is the first time I've seen any group of residents fight moderate-income [senior] housing. The whole county is watching," he said.

Co-counsel Warren Spahn said, "People ... have been worked up think that Section 8 [federally subsidized housing] will come in and ruin their community. It's not going to happen."

But Michael P. Tanczyn, the residents' lawyer, said the case was not a fight over subsidized housing but about a big building the residents feel will not fit in their community.

"The reason why my clients are worked up is because they've heard it all before from the developers," who said 11 years ago they wanted to disperse moderate-income units throughout the community, not concentrate them in one building. "This is a bad idea for this site," he said.

After last night's final session in the County Council chambers, only board member Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican who represents the upscale Waverly Woods golf course community on the council, sided with residents.

The legal issue was whether the proposed four-story building would be compatible with others in the 682-acre community along Interstate 70 in western Ellicott City -- and Ellicott City Republican Councilman Christopher J. Merdon said it clearly was.

"Other buildings [in Waverly Woods] are three to four stories. That to me seems compatible. If it were eight, nine or 10 stories, that would be clear" and not compatible, he argued. Columbia Democrats Ken Ulman, the board chairman, and David A. Rakes agreed.

Kittleman, a candidate for county executive in 2006, argued that changing the plan from a three-story, 60-unit building to a four-story structure for 102 moderate-income seniors made it too dense and thus incompatible. Subsidized housing was not the issue, he said, because Waverly Woods would have 102 units of moderate-income senior housing regardless of the board's decision.

The original plan was to build a condominium building on 2.3 acres across from the community's shopping center. Half of those units were to be for moderate-income seniors and the rest would have been larger, market-priced condominiums. The other 72 moderate-income units would have been spread among two other locations in Waverly Woods.

But after a county zoning law change three years ago, the developers proposed consolidating the moderate-income seniors in one building. County housing officials also favored that arrangement because it would provide a more cohesive social community for seniors, with more public spaces and services. Most residents would be widows, and the average age likely would be near 70, so being close to shopping, the golf course and other amenities would be good, according to testimony at earlier meetings.

County planners also favored the change, though the Planning Board recommended against it after a hearing in June.

Residents have argued the proposed building would be too big, the apartments too small and that putting all the subsidized units in one building would stigmatize the residents, though they have denied that their fears about subsidized housing sparked their opposition.

Waverly Woods developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. had testified that the change from three groupings of subsidized apartments for seniors spread throughout the golf course community to one 102-unit building wasn't thought to require a Zoning Board hearing until a third and final review by county planners.

Then, instead of what Reuwer and his backers thought would be a routine change, the issue became a community issue in which more than 800 Waverly residents signed petitions protesting the move. Dozens of residents filled the council chamber, most staying for 15 hours of board hearings over three nights -- each lasting past midnight -- before last night's closing arguments and deliberations.

The Zoning Board is composed of the five County Council members who sit as a judiciary body in zoning matters. Board member Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, did not participate in the hearings, which were scheduled during the council's August recess.

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