Election of Ulman gives Font Hill residents an ally in fighting development plan

Moderate-income housing opposed

December 13, 2006|BY A SUN STAFF REPORTER

Even as residents in Font Hill marshal forces for an epic fight with the county over a proposed 59-unit apartment complex for moderate-income families, there is every indication they already may have won.

First, they have a powerful ally in newly installed County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman, who has declared his unwavering opposition to the project on 2.5 acres off Frederick Road in Ellicott City.

Perhaps as important was the removal late Monday of Leonard S. Vaughan by the administration as director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which eliminated a chief proponent of the development.

Ulman said he would order a review of all current projects to provide housing for moderate to low-income families before deciding which ones to support.

The series of events would seem to seal the fate of Centennial Gardens.

The development is scheduled to be a joint venture between the county housing commission and Old Town Construction LLC, which has developed other projects for the county.

The county provided the commission with $1,634,247 to purchase the Font Hill property. The commission in turn contracted with Old Town Construction to develop the land.

A meeting between nearby residents and Jared Spahn, managing member of Old Town, is scheduled for tomorrow night at the county's central government complex.

"I am under an agreement with the prior administration to move the project forward. That's my responsibility to do," Spahn said. "I intend to work with them [the residents] as much as possible ... and provide a project that everyone is happy with."

The residents, though, vowed to continue their opposition until the project dies.

"The objection is the compatibility, traffic and density on Frederick Road," said John Lederer, president of Friends of Font Hill, an organization formed about five years ago to protect the interests of the community.

Lederer said his group has a list of about 300 homeowners in the area that will be called to enlist their support, and he said he hopes to win the backing of the nearby Gray Rock homeowners' association also.

Most of the area is zoned for single-family homes, but the site of the proposed development is zoned for business - a high-density, nonresidential classification.

Legislation enacted in 1990, though, allows the housing commission to build moderate-income housing in any business district.

Spahn said the project would include 23 one-bedroom units with an average of 635 square feet; 30 two-bedroom apartments, averaging 969 square feet and six three-bedroom units with 1,307 square feet.

The monthly rents, he said, would be $635 for a one-bedroom unit, $787 for two bedrooms and $907 for a three-bedroom unit.

The development, Spahn said, would include a computer lab, meeting rooms and activity centers.

Centennial Gardens, he said, has been approved by the state for tax credits, a key incentive for developers to construct below market-rate housing units.

Patrick Crown, secretary and treasurer of the Friends of Font Hill, said the plan to congregate that many people in such a small space would significantly alter the character of the neighborhood.

He said the county already requires builders to set aside a percent of each development for moderate and low-income earners.

"We think that that system is perfect," Crown said. "The people are integrated within the community; they are buying into the community. What we have here is a failed policy of the '60s - high rises where economic ability was limited just in the geographic placement of these units. ... What we have here is someone repackaging this and saying that this concept works when historically it has been proven that it does not when you economically segregate people into one area."

Aaron Greenfield, Ulman's chief of staff, said the administration is "very supportive of work force housing." But, he said that support does not extend to the Font Hill project.

"He [Ulman] did not support and does not support Centennial Gardens as planned," Greenfield said.

The dispute comes amid broader debates on how to handle in-fill development as well as how to provide housing for moderate and low-income families.

A task force declared last month that there is a critical shortage of housing units for the middle and low-income.

The task force, appointed by Ulman's predecessor, James N. Robey, recommended a series of changes, including higher densities and a relaxation of the county's construction restrictions.

Greenfield said the administration will work with the Housing Commission "to see if we can get to some compromise" on the Font Hill property.

Ulman, though opposing the current plan, said he believes "something can be built on that property."

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