Development still draws resistance

Residents fear plan for Edgewood site will lead to public housing

July 20, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Despite several community meetings, both in public places and at the homes of those living near a proposed subdivision in Edgewood, the developer has not dispelled fears that his plans for Washington Court will encourage more public housing.

The Shelter Group, a Baltimore city-based developer, has proposed a 288-home community on the 29-acre site of the abandoned military quarters near Edgewood Road and Cedar Lane.

The plan, which came before the county's Development Advisory Committee on Wednesday, calls for razing the old buildings and constructing 44 single-family homes and 144 townhouses - all of which will be sold at market value - and a four-story building with 100 apartments that will be leased to those age 62 and older.

DAC, a review group composed of representatives of county, state and federal agencies and utilities, decides if a development plan complies with established requirements for matters such as water and sewer lines, classroom space and recreation needs. If members determine the plan is in compliance, they are obligated to approve it, said Moe Davenport, chief of development review.

One member of the committee compared Shelter's intergenerational housing complex to the federally subsidized high-rises that Baltimore demolished several years ago.

"This is not public housing," said Jeffrey K. Hettleman, executive vice president of the Shelter Group, which has built several senior communities in Harford County. "That kind of hysteria is not correct. We want to serve seniors who have lived and worked here all their lives. We are taking a problem in the middle of your community and creating something substantially better so that people can make an investment back into the community."

A committee that included Edgewood residents and suggestions from community leaders chose the Shelter Group from among several proposals to develop the property. The project would proceed in phases, with demolition, estimated to cost nearly $2 million, tentatively set for a year from now.

While they agreed that Washington Court in its present state is a rat-infested eyesore, several residents at the DAC meeting said they do not want more cluster housing. Many said they would prefer a park or possibly a satellite campus of Harford Community College on the property, neither of which would generate revenue for the county.

"Too many of us have seen Harford County take Edgewood from country to an area of high-density housing," said James White. "We have more people here than in any other area of the county. We have been done to a lot of times. We are hoping that you are doing for us, not to us."

White and several other residents spoke of rising crime that keeps them locked in their homes at night.

"We are not hysterical, but we are very concerned," said Ruth Buono. "The change in Edgewood has been so drastic that we are practically prisoners in our homes."

Don Sample, a former resident who now lives in Bel Air, said the new homes are exactly what Edgewood needs.

"This is significant, committed investment in the neighborhood," Sample said. "All homeowners stand to gain. What's coming will raise the tax base significantly."

While he understood residents' skepticism, Davenport said, he stressed that the county has made great strides in Edgewood, including new school construction, increased policing and road improvements.

"The problems will not be fixed overnight, but there is a strong effort in place," Davenport said. "We hope this project establishes a model of redevelopment. Our object is to stimulate quality development and to provide work force housing."

Hettleman reiterated his willingness to keep the process open and to work with residents.

"In my opinion, the problems here result from disinvestment," he said. "This is a reinvestment with different housing types to meet the needs of this community."

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