Housing project killed by county

Centennial Gardens had sparked protest

February 07, 2007|by a sun reporter

The county has officially killed a planned development in Font Hill for moderate-income families.

The development, Centennial Gardens, had provoked a firestorm of protest, including opposition from County Executive Ken Ulman.

Ulman directed the Department of Housing and Community Development "to close this project" and sell the property back to the developer, Old Town Construction LLC.

Ulman's order followed the expiration last week of a memorandum of understanding between the developer and the Howard County Housing Commission for the construction of a 59-unit apartment complex.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's Howard County Sun about Centennial Gardens, a moderate-income development that has been killed, incorrectly reported the number of one-bedrooms that were planned. The correct number is 23. The Sun regrets the error.

"We believed from the beginning that this was the wrong project on the wrong site," said John Lederer, president of Friends of Font Hill, an organization formed about five years ago to protect the interests of the community and which had led the fight against Centennial Gardens.

"The community focused on the lack of compatibility and the density of the project," Lederer said. "The county saw it, Planning and Zoning saw it and the administration saw it."

The opponents had picked up powerful allies late last year, which all but sealed the fate of the development.

Ulman, while campaigning for county executive, and Courtney Watson, who was running for County Council, sided against the project. Their opposition did not waiver once they were elected.

The county had provided the housing commission with $1,634,247 to purchase the 2.5-acre site, just off Frederick Road near Centennial Lane.

The commission in turn contracted with Old Town Construction to develop the property.

Most of the area is zoned for single-family homes, but the site of the proposed development is zoned for business. But legislation enacted in 1990 allowed the housing commission to build moderate-income housing in any business district.

Jared Spahn, managing member of Old Town, could not be reached for comment.

He had previously said the development would include 232 one-bedroom units, 30 two-bedroom apartments and six three-bedroom units.

The monthly rents would have been $635 for a one-bedroom apartment, $787 for two bedrooms and $907 for a three-bedroom unit.

Centennial Gardens was intended to help meet what officials acknowledge to be an acute shortage in Howard County of housing for moderate- and low-income families.

Stacy Spann, recently appointed by Ulman as director of the Department of Housing and Community Development said, "The property would be returned to the development team."

The property still can be developed, but not for residential use.

"Whatever [previous] development plans they had for the property could, in fact, go forward," Spann said.

Lederer said he is "optimistically cautious" about the future of the property.

"No developer is going to put something there that the public doesn't want," he said. "It just wouldn't make sense."

He said he expects Old Town will "work with the community on something that is compatible."

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