Commission votes to reject senior-housing plan

November 19, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Westminster's planning and zoning commission has unanimously recommended that the City Council reject a proposal to build a 320-unit senior housing development on nine holes of the Wakefield Valley Golf Course.

The commission suggested the development would take up designated open space and clog surrounding roads. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal Nov. 27.

Most residents living around the 27-hole golf course and the adjacent Carroll Lutheran Village retirement community have said they don't want to see the high-density housing in their backyard.

"We're not unaware of feelings of residents out there," Westminster Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson said. "Clearly, the sentiment we've been getting in letters indicates where the citizens are. But the council has an obligation to go into this giving everyone an opportunity to present their best case."

Meanwhile, city officials are still grappling with how to resolve a water deficit that has effectively shut down growth in Westminster.

Planning and public works staff from the city and Carroll County recently met again with officials of the Maryland Department of the Environment to hammer out an agreement that would allow a limited number of building permits to move through.

Ferguson said they should have a written agreement drafted within the next few weeks.

"A lot of stuff in the pipeline right now is being held up," Ferguson said. "People have already sunk money into projects now stopped."

Martin K.P. Hill, who submitted the Wakefield Valley proposal through his Woodhaven Building and Development company in Manchester, is one of those affected developers.

"If you're going to be in this business you can't let that stuff wear you down," Hill said. Hill said the Wakefield Valley project will benefit Westminster's growing senior population and embodies the principles of smart growth.

He said the completed development would add $1 million annually to the city coffers and provide a new recreation center and trash collection for its private roads.

"The outcry from the immediate residents is the typical effect of `not in my backyard,'" Hill said.

He said his traffic engineer would conduct additional studies on how accessible the development is to fire and emergency services.

Developing the Wakefield Valley senior cottages could have the added benefit of yielding water for the municipal water supply, Hill said.

His hydrogeologist, Mark W. Eisner, said the golf course, currently irrigated with about 120,000 gallons of groundwater daily, could instead draw water from nearby Little Pipe Creek.

About 40,000 gallons from the golf-course wells could support the Wakefield Valley development. That would yield about 80,000 gallons a day for the city's use, Eisner said.

But that's a drop in the bucket toward resolving the city's water deficit of about 900,000 gallons per day.

Westminster's planning department has concluded that public water cannot be guaranteed for the Wakefield Valley site.

Determining how much the golf course's groundwater would yield requires much more research, city planners said.

Though the golf course is designated open space, Hill has suggested that about 160 underutilized density units could be transferred from the nearby Fenby Farm development to the Wakefield property.

Each of the 320 senior cottages would represent only a half density unit, assistant Westminster planner Erik Fisher said.

But Westminster planners have determined that the extra Fenby Farm density units have expired.

Therefore, the council would have to approve adding 320 senior cottages to the Wakefield Valley Development Plan for Hill's proposal to move forward.

Four of the Westminster City Council's five members could vote on the golf course development as soon as Dec. 11, Ferguson said. A tie vote would still mean the proposal is rejected.

Council President Roy L. Chiavacci, vice president of neighboring Carroll Lutheran Village, has recused himself from the vote.

Councilman Kevin R. Utz said his decision will account for the concerns of area residents and be faithful to the intended community plan.

"We all know that adding 320 units is going to add quite a bit of congestion, creating something that isn't there now," Utz said.

"What will be most compelling is whether or not that was just planned to be green space with no other lots to be built."

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