Bill aims to freeze senior housing

90-day construction ban sought as council studies intentions of developers

December 05, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Harford County Council will hold a hearing Tuesday night on a bill seeking a 90-day moratorium on the construction of housing for the elderly.

The panel wants to determine whether developers are using the housing designation to circumvent a law limiting residential growth in overcrowded school districts.

"There has been a flurry of activity in the development of housing for the elderly in recent months," said Councilman Robert G. Cassilly, a Republican representing the Bel Air area. "Is the objective to serve the needs of the elderly, or are developers doing this to get around the law and get new houses on the market?

"That's what we want to find out," he said.

"This has been like a tiger that has jumped up and bit us in the butt," said Councilman Dion F. Guthrie. "All of a sudden, it looks as if builders are calling their developments housing for the elderly as a way of getting around the [adequate public facilities] law that became effective in July."

Guthrie, the only Democrat on the council and the representative of Joppa and Edgewood, was referring to a law that prohibits preliminary approval of new residential development in any school district with a school exceeding 105 percent its student capacity.

Cassilly said several housing developments designated for buyers 55 or older have popped up in the Bel Air area recently.

"All of a sudden we have three projects designated for the elderly within a one-mile radius where there was none," he said. "It looks to me like the builders are using the elderly housing designation as a door around the moratorium on development in crowded school districts."

Susan Stroud Parker, a spokeswoman for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said the industry was opposed to the legislation. "We frankly think it is not needed," she said.

Parker said such a moratorium could reduce the supply of housing to a segment of the market that is underserved in the county.

She said she disagreed with members of the council and others who suggested that developers were using the elderly housing designation to circumvent the county's adequate public facilities laws.

According to Councilman Richard C. Slutzky, a former high school teacher and coach, the county's elderly housing law requires only that one person involved in the purchase of the home be 55 or older.

He said there are complaints that some of these people are coming in with four or five children, putting a strain on some schools.

Slutzky, a Republican, represents Aberdeen and serves as chairman of an adequate public facilities review committee, which was established by the council this year. He said that when the committee holds its next meeting Dec. 16, he will seek information from the Department of Planning and Zoning on any increase in plans for housing designated for seniors.

Slutzky he would also seek information from the public school system on the number of students living in elderly housing developments.

"I've heard that 80 percent of the new [housing] projects are being designated for the elderly," Slutzky said. "There is a question about this having an impact on schools. The whole idea of the temporary moratorium is to give the council and the administration time to see is there is a problem, and if there is, a need to change the language in the code."

Deb Merlock, a vice president of the county Council of PTAs, said a growing segment of the population is having children later in life.

"You can no longer say that because someone is 55, that they don't have kids going to school," she said.

Merlock said senior housing is also attractive to families in which both parents are employed because there is usually less work involved in taking care of the yard.

"Yes, I think it's a good idea to take a look at this situation and see what's going on," she said.

In calling for the moratorium , Cassilly said, council members were responding to residents who have complained about abuse in the system at council meetings in recent months.

Judy Blomquist, a retired teacher and president of Friends of Harford, said the grass-roots organization that tracks growth issues in the county supports the council's action.

"This is a heads-up decision by the council," she said.

She said that there is nothing to prevent future owners from moving in with children.

Cassilly said any abuse of the system is also unfair to the elderly, some of whom move into designated projects to be away from noise and other situations associated with children in the community.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers.

Guthrie said the bill is sponsored by five of the seven council members. "We could vote on it Tuesday," he said.

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