Opponents decry proposed changes to development at Maple Lawn

Planning Board to consider plan to expand acreage, increase housing density

April 13, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

John Adolphsen acknowledges that five-tenths of a percent does not seem like much, but it is enough to make him seethe.

"Look at hard numbers," not fractions, the retiree instructs while discussing proposed changes to the sprawling Maple Lawn development in southern Howard County - including a half-percent increase in residential density - three miles from Adolphsen's home. "You come up with big numbers."

It is a yardstick that he and some others hope the Planning Board uses while deliberating about the changes - including increased density - to the high-end residential, commercial and retail complex.

The developer believes there is a more compelling benchmark: "If I went out and got the top 100 directors of planning in the nation and took a vote, it would be 100 to nothing for Maple Lawn. ... There wouldn't even be an argument," says Stewart J. Greenebaum, founding partner and president of Greenebaum and Rose Associates Inc.

Maple Lawn has been an issue of contention since it was proposed more than a decade ago, and it has the distinction of commanding more public meetings - 32 - than any project in county history before the multimillion-dollar development was given the green light five years ago.

Today, a community center and numerous homes, starting in the $800,000s, and townhouses are being completed at one end of the almost 508-acre development, while office and retail buildings are going up at the other end, along Route 216, near Fulton.

One might presume there's nothing left to quarrel over. But there's plenty, as the Planning Board may learn from residents in the neighborhood Monday when it reconvenes a hearing on Maple Lawn.

The latest dispute centers on changes the developer has proposed to the plan approved Dec. 29, 2000.

The key changes would:

Expand the development by about 97 acres, to 605.

Increase the commercial, or business, component of Maple Lawn by almost 45 acres, to 122.

Reduce by 32 acres the land set aside for single-family detached homes, while increasing the area for townhouses and apartments by roughly 50 acres, to 122.

Increase by 518 the number of housing units, to 1,634. The additional units would be townhouses and apartments.

Increase the overall density - the number of residential units per acre - to 2.7 from 2.2.

To a large extent, the latest battle comes down to density. Not surprisingly, the interpretations by the developer and neighborhood residents of the proposed change's consequences are starkly different.

First, says Greenebaum, the 2.7 density would not be reached for a decade, and then only after construction of a senior housing complex, which would be restricted to those at least 55 years old and would be set apart from Maple Lawn's other residential areas. Also, he says, the lifestyles of those in the senior housing would be so dissimilar to the other residents that there would be no negative impact on Maple Lawn.

"That doesn't happen until the year 2015," he says. "They can't have children, and their travel requirements are different. It's not apples and apples."

The development wins support from Richard W. Story, chief executive of the county Economic Development Authority. "I like it," he says. "It's a quality product at the right time and in a very desirable market. There is the potential for jobs - good jobs - to be created in the commercial space they are creating."

Critics say the proposed changes, if approved, will result in too many people living and working in Maple Lawn, who in turn will produce a strain on the county's roads and school system.

Adolphsen is retired and lives in a home secluded among trees and far off of Lime Kiln Road, which merges with Route 216. Yet he is among the most vocal critics of the expansion.

"Right now, the traffic from Montgomery County via Lime Kiln Road is a major artery in the morning and the evening," he says. "The traffic on Route 216 is heavily traveled in the morning and evening, and all of that is going by the entrance to Maple Lawn.

"They acquired about 100 acres - about 20 percent more. If they had kept the density the same, I don't think anyone would be raising an eyebrow. But what they have done is increase the density by 25 percent.

"Look at how many units and how many people are going to be living in those units, and how many people are going to be working there," he says. "You come up with big numbers - like 11,000 more people, maybe 15,000 more people."

Greg Brown, a spokesman for a coalition of neighborhood groups, says the schools and roads can't handle the number of people that higher density would produce.

"The developer would like you to believe that it's a very small increase. ... So why would anyone ever want to protest something as wonderful as the developer is proposing?" Brown says. "The answer is, our infrastructure is already overburdened. The roads simply don't work. The schools are at capacity or over capacity.

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