Unusual roles at play in Cherry Tree development

Foe of higher density backs allowing more housing at age-restricted site

August 21, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

It was hardly a typical meeting. A developer recommended that a home not be counted as a house; the Planning Board voted unanimously to deny the application, although it supported its intent; and a vocal opponent of higher density urged just the opposite.

And when it's all said and done, all parties may achieve what they most desire.

If people weren't literally scratching their heads in wonderment, they certainly were figuratively.

At issue was a proposal by Cherrytree Park LLC to build 128 units of age-restricted housing - for those 55 or older. Doing that, though, would exceed the county's restrictions on the number of homes on the property because it is zoned MXD-6, meaning mixed use with a density cap of six homes per acre.

To get around that, the developer proposed that regulations be changed to count the homes as part of the "employment," or commercial, component of the project.

Two factors initiated the proposal, said Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing the builder. First, residents of the area advocated a greater number of age-restricted units than the 76 units initially proposed by the developer, and less commercial activity. And second, nearby Maple Lawn, Maryland is having a negative impact on others in leasing office space.

Regulations require that 15 percent - about 60,000 square feet - of the land be devoted to employment. But Talkin said that is economically imprudent. "When you look at this in context," he said, "Maple Lawn is really going to affect this property."

Maple Lawn is a 600-plus-acre, mixed-use planned community just west of where Routes 29 and 216 meet, which, when completed, will offer hundreds of thousands of square feet in premium office space.

Cherry Tree Park is half-a-mile away, on the east side of U.S. 29 off Route 216.

The developer sought cutting the employment district of Cherry Tree in half, and substituting the age-restricted housing units in its place.

"It's not going to cause any harm," Talkin told the Planning Board Thursday night. "This change ... is responding to the dynamics of the area."

The developer won support from an unlikely source.

Greg Brown, who has led the fight against Maple Lawn's efforts to achieve higher density, urged the board to approve Cherrytree's application.

`It just makes sense'

Backing a developer was uncharted territory for him, Brown said, but Cherrytree President John Liparini has been responsive to nearby residents.

Competing with Maple Lawn "will be very difficult for them," he said. "Logically, it just makes sense to allow a few more [housing] units."

The Planning Board didn't conceal its view that Brown was flip-flopping.

Brown insisted his positions on Maple Lawn and Cherry Tree are compatible. He said the age-restricted units at Cherry Tree would compound neither traffic congestion nor school crowding, two of his biggest worries about the larger development down the road.

The Planning Board both agreed and disagreed with Liparini's application.

Counting homes as commercial space amounted to "bait and switch. It makes me uncomfortable," said board member Linda A. Dombrowski. The board voted 5-0 to deny the request.

Flexibility

But the board also recommended that the County Council amend requirements to permit the age-restricted units at Cherry Tree.

"Flexibility is necessary ... because you want a community that is viable," Dombrowski said. "We just need a more direct way of achieving that."

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