The Westminster City Council unanimously rejected last night a Manchester developer's proposal to build a 320-unit senior housing complex on part of the private Wakefield Valley golf course, which borders neighborhoods and an existing retirement community.
The proposal came at an inopportune time: Westminster is still grappling with a water deficit that has effectively shut down growth in the Carroll County seat since late September.
Councilman Robert P. Wack, while voting no on the proposal, praised the developer's plan to recycle wastewater from its homes to irrigate the golf course - which now uses city water. "The fact that the developer is interested in using wastewater to replace water for the golf course, to replace water for the city, is where we need to be going."
More residents mobilized against the development than nearly any other proposal in the city's history. The senior cottages were to spring up in their backyards, consuming nine holes of the 27-hole golf course. To counter their outcry, developer Martin K.P. Hill hired experts who testified about his proposal's ability to expand Westminster's tax base, provide the city with an additional 80,000 gallons of groundwater per day and accommodate a mushrooming senior population.
"I think the decision was based on the emotions of the residents rather than the overall benefit to the city," said Hill, president of Woodhaven Building and Development. "I didn't hear any experts testify on behalf of the city. How do you challenge something like that?"
Hill has another 189-home subdivision held up in Westminster because of the building freeze. Over his career, he has built about 3,000 homes in Carroll County, including 1,000 in Westminster, Hill said.
To resolve the water shortage, Westminster Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson is hoping to reach an agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment by the end of the year. The state agency had identified wells that currently irrigate the golf course as a suitable new water option, Hill said last night after the vote.
Westminster's Planning and Zoning Commission first encouraged the City Council to reject the development to preserve designated open space and prevent a growth of traffic on area roads.
Then in late November, more than 150 people packed the Westminster Fire Company hall to protest the proposal at a five-hour public hearing that ran until almost 1 a.m.
Many residents of the adjacent Carroll Lutheran Village retirement community and those whose homes face the course opposed the high-density project.
For the 167-acre development to proceed, the City Council would have had to rezone the parcel of land to increase its permitted population density.
Hill's proposal also conflicted with Carroll Lutheran Village's 2001 master plan to add 200 residents to the 700-person community, its chief executive officer, Geary Milliken, said yesterday.
"We're already on the map to do this," Milliken said. "We're not a developer. We're a faith-based nonprofit. Will this jeopardize our ability to grow?"
Council President Roy L. Chiavacci, who is also Carroll Lutheran's vice president, recused himself from the vote.