Building a following from opposition

Waverly Gardens developers win over neighbors and create affordable housing for senior citizens

July 05, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

The first thing one notices about Waverly Gardens is the huge circular driveway, emblazoned with a giant "W," and the cathedral-like entrance.

Inside, there are marble floors, oversized leather chairs, fine woods, sparkling granite, expansive rooms and much more.

Just another luxury development in opulent, excessive Howard County?

Not quite. Units at Waverly Gardens begin at less than $700 a month.

More surprising, perhaps, is that the complex arose amid formidable opposition from those who, among other things, complained that the project would be "incompatible" with their lifestyle.

That was regarded largely as camouflage for resistance by some in pricey Waverly Woods to be living among those with moderate incomes.

Such opposition appears to have faded.

"We have 30 pre-leases," said Jared Spahn, managing member of Old Town Construction LLC, the contractor. "Half of those are family members who signed the petition against the building."

Waverly Gardens, a county-commissioned apartment complex that opened June 15 with its first tenant, was planned to accomplish two goals: provide housing for seniors - and at an affordable price.

As it turns out, the $12.7 million development is notable in a third regard. It is a "green" building, designed to be healthier and among the most energy efficient in the county.

The project, in Waverly Woods in the county's western region, is the second age-restricted, moderately priced apartment complex commissioned by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

"It's a beautiful building. Absolutely gorgeous," said Neil Gaffney, the department's deputy director. "I often tell others that this is what affordable housing looks like in Howard County. What that means is that we have developers and architects who have a vision and who can make housing affordable and enjoyable."

The development was opposed vigorously during a series of hearings two years ago. Nearby residents trotted out numerous objections, but behind most of them, officials say, was the fear that Waverly Gardens would be the stereotypical low-income housing project.

"They opposed what they envisioned in their minds this would be," said Gaffney.

Spahn, who also served as the agent for the developer, Waverly Woods Development Corp., acknowledged feeling exonerated.

"It is everything that I hoped it would be," he said. "I feel a sense of vindication after all the names I got called. ... It was a long-fought battle to do what we felt was right."

Now that the four-story, 102-unit complex is completed, Spahn said, "Almost everyday somebody tells me, `I don't know why I had a problem with this - why I objected to this.'"

The Department of Housing and Community Development commissioned the development because of two problems confronting the county.

The first is its rapidly changing demographics, which, by 2030, will add more than 46,000 people 55 and older, pushing that segment to a full one-third of the county's population.

The second is the relative absence of affordable housing for seniors. While numerous age-restricted developments have been constructed in the county in the past six years, most of them have been high-end projects, with many units selling for $500,000 or more.

Waverly Gardens is restricted to those at least 62 years old whose incomes do not exceed $30,600 a year for one person, or $34,920 for a couple. Those limits are established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and subject to yearly adjustments. The incomes of tenants will be verified annually, Gaffney said.

There are 86 one-bedroom units and 16 two-bedroom apartments. The units range in size from 600 square feet to 902 square feet, and the rents run as low as $685 a month and top out at $842.

Waverly Gardens' amenities include underground parking, a computer lounge with high-speed Internet connections, an exercise room, an entertainment lounge with a 42-inch plasma television, a visiting-doctors room, storage lockers and an outdoor deck.

Gaffney expects the complex to be fully leased within six months.

As a "green" building, Waverly Gardens is smoke-free, boasts rooftop solar panels for heating water for the laundry room and other common areas, features carpeting, paint and sealants with low-volatile organic compounds and landscaping with low-maintenance, drought-resistant plants.

The complex is projected to consume at least 35 percent less energy than a typical building of its size, said Edward M. Hord, a senior principal with the architectural firm Hord Coplan Macht Inc.

"Saving energy is so important," Hord said. "We know we need to do something about energy consumption. Strategically, it's what we need to be doing."

Spahn said it cost 3 percent more to build Waverly Woods as a green building, but he said the savings over time will be profoundly greater. He said he believes most developers realize now that it is good business to construct energy-efficient buildings.

"All the Fortune 500 companies are moving to green buildings," he said. "It makes economic sense to go green."

The county is teaming with Spahn on three other projects - two apartment complexes for moderate-income families and another development for seniors. Groundbreaking for all three is expected in February or March.

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