Changes on old Paca property anger residents

Builders switch retirement community to subdivision of 172 townhouses, condos

December 10, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Plans for a 91-unit retirement community near Bel Air have been revised into a 172-unit subdivision with townhouses and condominiums, sparking outcry from nearby residents concerned about the effect on roads and schools.

The property is owned by the estate of Henry H. Boyer and is under contract for sale to the Towson-based Nottingham Properties Inc. The sale is contingent on county approval of the project, said Doug Cann, the company's vice president.

Although the new proposal includes more homes, it is consistent with the county's master plan and in compliance with the county's requirements, county officials say. The impending opening of two schools and the expected effects of redistricting led the company to plan a higher-density community, he said.

"If you don't have age restrictions, it really opens up your market," Cann said. "We could have put another 90 units on this property, but we didn't so as not to overtax roads and schools. And we are saving the mansion."

The project has been renamed Paca's Meadows in a nod to John Paca, father of Declaration of Independence signatory William Paca and the original owner of the 61-acre property on Moores Mill Road across from Southampton Middle School. The developer has pledged to spare an 18th-century manor house on the property, although the building and its three-quarter-acre lot would be for sale.

The revised plan has angered some residents who live near the site. About 200 people packed a planning and zoning review committee hearing last week, a crowd that was so large that the meeting had to be moved to a bigger venue.

During the three-hour hearing, residents warned that the proposed development would cause congested roads and schools, a strain on police and fire services, and negative environmental impacts.

"How did we go from 91 houses to 172 townhouses and condos?" said Henry Bankard. "Our quality of life is going south in a wholesale selling out of a valuable piece of property."

The county will require developers to remedy any problems created by additional motorists on Moores Mill Road, a two-lane county byway used by 12,000 motorists daily.

Resident Donna Alexander urged officials to consider the well-being of people in surrounding areas. According to a proposal school officials are considering, Alexander's son might spend fifth grade next year at Southampton Middle School because Prospect Mill Elementary is running out of space and uses portable classrooms.

"You are bringing this neighborhood down," Alexander said. "I can't believe people of your caliber are allowing this to happen."

The hearing was conducted by the Development Advisory Committee, a review group composed of representatives of county, state, federal and utility agencies. The committee's role is to review whether a development plan complies with requirements.

"This is a technical review committee. Once a plan is found in compliance, we are obligated to approve it," Moe Davenport, chief of development review, said to residents who implored the committee to halt the project.

The county will not approve new residential construction in areas where school enrollments are beyond the building's capacity. But in the two or more years it would take to build Paca's Meadows, the new Patterson Mill high and middle schools will have eased the classroom crunch in the area, according to school system projections. Redistricting also will shrink enrollment at Southampton Middle and at nearby C. Milton Wright High, officials said.

Some residents were not appeased.

"Your track record with projections is horrible," Roger Ramsey said to the committee. "Your math is bad or we would have Prospect Mill at 140 percent capacity."

Since the project has been reviewed by the appropriate county agencies and the developer has agreed to make the required revisions, the plans for Paca's Meadows will not come before the panel again.

"I am fine with the regulations, and I will keep moving through the process," Cann said. "We feel we have taken the community's interest into consideration."

State Del. Susan K. McComas said she understood residents' frustrations with the review process. Their only recourse may lie with the courts, she said.

"The public does not feel its input is valuable," she said. "This is not good for the system or for democracy. It has a corrosive effect."

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