Housing plan rejected

Age-restricted units not `in harmony,' official says

April 28, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

A proposed 50-unit, age-restricted luxury housing development in western Howard County has been rejected by a hearing examiner.

The decision was a rare defeat for the senior housing segment, which has flourished in the past five years and is now the largest component of the county's housing market.

Thomas P. Carbo, the hearing examiner, said the development would not be "in harmony" with the intent of age-restricted housing or with the adjacent community.

R. Jacob Hikmat, who will acquire the property and retain a contractor to build the units if the project clears the regulatory process, said he will appeal the ruling. He has 30 days to do so.

"We met or exceeded every single requirement," he said. "I tried to go beyond everything that is required to make sure that it is compatible with the neighborhood."

Technically, Carbo denied a petition for a conditional-use permit, but the effect of his ruling was to reject the development as it is planned.

The project is proposed for 50 acres in Clarksville, on Greenberry Lane north of Linden Church Road and east of Route 32.

The proposal calls for 50 single-family, two-story detached houses, each 80 feet wide, 40 feet deep and with about 6,000 square feet.

The development would include a community center, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a 6-foot-wide paved trail network that would extend around much of the property.

Two hundred parking spaces would be provided for the 50 units and 23 more at the community center. A minimum of 25 percent of the land would be preserved as open space.

Hikmat estimates that the houses would cost more than $800,000 but that prices won't be set until he retains a builder. He hopes to begin construction in 2 1/2 years, barring additional delays.

The area is zoned rural residential, and most of the houses in the neighborhood are on 3-acre lots.

The Department of Planning and Zoning recommended approval of the petition.

An opponent of the development, attorney Marc L. Jordan, said the density would harm the character of the neighborhood and increase traffic on Route 32.

"There are several concerns," said Jordan, whose home would be adjacent to the development. "By far, the overriding concern is safety in the neighborhood. ... It will have a big impact on traffic on 32. There already are a number of fatalities that occur along that stretch.

"I think it's irresponsible for the county to let a project like this go forward until there are some assurances that the safety issues along Route 32 are going to be taken care of."

Hikmat said his development would not pose a traffic problem.

"The traffic is two issues," he said. "It's the amount of cars and it's the time of day of the trips."

Studies of residents of age-restrict projects, he said, have shown that they are less likely than others to travel during rush hours.

Although the ruling will be appealed, Hikmat said he intends to satisfy Carbo's concerns where possible.

Hikmat said he was "very surprised" by the ruling. "I feel like he's giving me input on what he thinks should be there. I understand what he's saying. I think we met the regulations, but I will try to accommodate what he's saying," he said.

The hearing examiner criticized the size of the units, saying the county's general plan "contemplates that age-restricted adult housing will involve smaller-than-typical housing units."

Carbo also noted in his ruling that the proposed units "are not designed for the typical active senior seeking smaller quarters, but for larger households that happen to have one member who is age 55 or older."

Jordan said, "I sort of felt that this is an end run around the zoning regulations ... [to] slip in this McMansion under the regulations that are meant for smaller families."

He said he was "very happy" with Carbo's ruling. "A lot of people felt like it would be futile to challenge this" because the county has encouraged age-restricted housing, Jordan said.

Hikmat said he is not wedded to the 6,000-square-foot units. He said it is easier to alter plans by the reducing the size of the houses than by starting small and trying to enlarge them, which would require another round of regulatory review.

"If there are things that can be done reasonably, then I will always do it," he said. "It is better business-wise to accommodate people."

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