Senior housing is redesigned

Developer's overhaul might save western county project, which planners oppose

March 19, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

A last-minute overhaul may have saved a proposed senior housing project for western Howard County.

The project, Hearthstone at Little Patuxent, faces opposition from the Department of Planning and Zoning.

The department recommended denial of the developer's petition to rezone the property, contending primarily that the project would harm the character of the so-called rural west, which it would border, and because it would include multistory condominiums, which "would be too different" from the housing units in the area.

The property is about 13.5 acres fronting Old Frederick Road (Route 99), just west of Marriottsville Road, and close to Alpha Ridge Park.

In an effort to nullify that opposition, the developer, Donald R. Reuwer Jr., amended his petition. The changes are significant in several respects by:

Reducing the number of housing units to 50 from the 63 initially proposed.

Eliminating the condominium component, leaving only single-family detached and attached villas in the community.

Increasing the land preserved for open space from 37 percent to 52 percent.

Reuwer said his office worked "around the clock" for a week to redesign Hearthstone after receiving a copy of the county's staff report urging denial of his petition, which would rezone the property from rural conservation to planned senior community.

"We said, `Let's do it right. Let's make it better,'" said Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing the developer. "We believe we've done that."

Steve Lafferty, deputy director of Planning and Zoning, said, "I think that the [developer] has addressed a lot of our concerns," but he noted the department had not examined them because they had just been filed. The Planning Board delayed a vote until March 30 to give the county an opportunity to review the changes and modify the staff report.

The proposal "is extremely different than the one initially filed," board member David Grabowski said. "We need to give staff ... time. It's a courtesy."

Gary Rosenbum, in his first board meeting, said, "Two weeks won't create a hardship" for the developer.

The development would be restricted to those ages 55 and older. Reuwer said that Hearthstone is attempting to reduce the monthly fees to buyers by not providing unnecessary amenities. "We're trying to serve a different buyer, and an underserved buyer," he said.

Ralph Ballman, a county resident, opposed the project, primarily because it would be served by public water and sewer. The property, he said, is outside the planned service area.

It is an argument Ballman has made in numerous zoning cases.

Lafferty disputed the claim, but board member H. Gregory Tornatore, acting chairman, demanded that the department provide the board with an "official document" that definitively answers the question.

He said he wanted the debate over the boundaries for water and sewer put "to rest once and for all."

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