Public opposition puts duplex plans on hold

Developer seeks to expand another project in Elkridge that is facing fewer objections

February 04, 2007|BY A SUN REPORTER

Plans for two multiunit duplex developments in Elkridge for moderate-income families have been shelved, at least for now, because of vigorous public opposition.

A third, and much larger, mixed-use project by the same developer, Brantly Development Group, will proceed - although it, too, faces resistance, but not nearly on the same scale.

John Liparini, president and chief executive officer of Brantly, abandoned the two projects after numerous residents objected and County Councilwoman Courtney Watson vowed legislation to prohibit additional duplexes in much of Elkridge, although she acknowledged the bill probably could not be applied retroactively to affect Brantly's plans.

"It's not worth it to me or my company," Liparini said during a community meeting that was attended by about 100 people.

Many of those people were not residents adjacent to the sites of the proposed developments, and Liparini said he wishes to meet with them before deciding how to develop the properties.

The parcels affected are both zoned R-12, which is single-family residential lots of 12,000 square feet. The county, however, has permitted duplexes with approval of a conditional-use permit.

The Brantly Development Group was seeking permits to construct 20 duplex units on 7.22 acres on Old Washington Road near the Norbel School and eight duplexes on 1.5 acres, also on Old Washington Road.

The structures would be designed to appear as single-family homes to blend in with the neighborhood, Liparini said, but each unit would be about half the size of a traditional home.

"It's more expensive for us to do it, but it's the right thing for us to do" because the homes would be affordable to far more people, Liparini said.

He estimated that the homes would cost $250,000 to $300,000.

Several people in the audience objected to the plans, saying that the two developments would change the character of their neighborhoods, increase density and negatively affect the value of their homes.

"Three hundred thousand dollars is less than what most of us could probably get for their homes," said Elkridge resident Mike Bartlett. "It's like you've reached into their pockets and taken out money."

Watson, elected to her first term on the council in November, said, "Two-family dwellings is not compatible with Elkridge. ... We don't want noncompatible development."

She said her legislation would ban duplexes on property zoned R-12, and she urged the residents to press the other council members for support. "You don't have to convince me," Watson said. "It's the other council members."

Calvin Ball, the council chairman, attended the meeting and indicated his support of the legislation.

Valerie McGuire, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, said the duplexes were not acceptable. "People are upset because you're suddenly placing these duplexes in the middle of these residential homes. ... The opposition was unanimous, and I think they heard that loud and clear."

But she also said, "I'm very impressed with his [Liparini's] flexibility. ... He's very open."

The zoning allows Liparini to construct single-family homes on the properties, and he indicated that the company might proceed with those plans if he fails to win the backing of adjacent residents.

He said he did not want his projects to be the impetus for the council to rush into changing zoning regulations.

"I'm not going to be the one to force fast-track legislation," he said.

Liparini said he intends to proceed with a third project, Elkridge Crossing, which will provide a mix of housing, retail, commercial offices and open space.

That development, on about 27 acres off Washington Boulevard, is approved, and the first phase is under construction.

But Liparini is seeking rezoning of an additional 4.5 acres to expand Elkridge Crossing.

The Planning Board will consider the application, but the date of that hearing has not been scheduled.

To rezone the property, however, the board must conclude that either the existing zoning is no longer viable because of profound changes to the neighborhood or that the County Council erred in not rezoning the land in 2004.

Benjamin Bauman, who lives near the 4.5 acres in question, is opposing the rezoning and has retained attorney Katherine L. Taylor to represent him.

Expanding Elkridge Crossing, Bauman said, would encroach on wildlife that relies on a large pond on his property.

"The pond has been there for more than 100 years," he said. "If you bring up all of this development, people will be right up to the water. It's going to ruin the environmental element. ... The habitat - all of that will go."

Liparini has reduced to 40 from 100 the units that would be built on the property and promised to construct barriers to protect Bauman's property and the wildlife.

McGuire, who said she has been "sitting on the fence," described Liparini's modified plans as prudent.

"His presentation was wonderful. It made a lot of sense," she said. "He dealt with the open-space issue, and he addressed some of the concerns to have a barrier of trees and fence to protect the pond and children. I liked the plan."

Liparini said Elkridge Crossing would help the county's efforts to revitalize the U.S. 1 corridor.

"I've built a lot developments," he said, "but this can be special."

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