Senior housing support sought

Developer's plan set for public presentation

November 30, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

In preparation for its first general public meeting on plans to build a senior-housing complex on the edge of historic Doughoregan Manor, officials of Erickson Retirement Communities have spent weeks building support for the project by meeting with leaders of several area community groups.

Erickson's preliminary concept plan is scheduled for an open house-style presentation from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the county's Ellicott City Senior Center, 9401 Frederick Road. In recent weeks, the company has been dropping in on groups and laying out some of the parameters of the project.

Some citizen activists who have attended the meetings say they see the firm trying to slowly build support, or at least head off criticism.

"I just think they want to meet with as many people as they can," said Carol Filipczak, a board member of the county League of Women Voters chapter. Erickson met with the league's board in early November, she said.

"Some developers see that as a means of informing the community," she said.

Erickson officials have met with groups representing the St. Johns Lane area, Terra Maria, and youth leagues that use Kiwanis-Wallas Park, according to members of the groups and William E. Erskine, an attorney for the developer.

No proposal has been submitted to county planners.

The plan calls for the Carroll family, owners of the 892-acre historic estate, to sell Erickson a 150-acre swath of land closest to Centennial Lane, for phased development of 1,500 apartments and care facilities for senior citizens. The company would have an option to buy an additional 38 acres for another 500 units. The Carrolls also plan to donate 36 acres to expand Kiwanis-Wallas Park.

If approved, the deal is intended to provide enough money to allow Camilla Carroll and her brother, Philip D. Carroll, to preserve the rest of Doughoregan. That includes the nearly 300-year-old mansion and 30 other buildings that once belonged to Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. The estate - the only signer's home still in family hands - lies between Frederick Road on the north, and Route 108 on the south, west of Centennial Lane. The main access to the proposed development would be off Frederick Road, just west of Kiwanis-Wallas Park.

Although receiving an initial positive reaction from county elected officials and some citizens, the concept will require major changes by the government to extend water and sewer to the site, and to allow dense residential units on what is now farmland.

Mel Tansill, spokesman for Erickson, said Tuesday's session is designed to be an informal open house format so people can ask questions.

"We wanted to gain early input from community groups in the area," Tansill wrote in an e-mail response to a reporter's questions. "We want as much public input as possible."

Erskine, the company's lawyer, said Erickson is a different kind of developer.

"This isn't the typical build, sell and move on," he said, describing new-home builders. Erickson operates the senior communities it builds and works at being a good neighbor, he said.

Several community leaders said they were told during recent meetings that Erickson residents are typically between ages 75 and 85 and drive very little, often relying on buses for transportation.

County Council Chairwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, said she thinks the Erickson concept holds the most promise both for the county and for preserving land - and history.

"The proposal will enable more than 600 acres of land and the historic mansion to be preserved," she said. "The retirement product offered is very much needed in Howard County, and the development will not impact our schools."

Traffic impacts bear close examination, she said.

The Erickson visits to community groups were brief, participants said, offering broad overviews of their concept, and a look at artist's renderings and maps.

Barbara Schnackenberg, co-president of the county League of Women Voters chapter, said the presentation lasted less than 15 minutes and offered few new details about Erickson's plans. She is concerned about the traffic impact where Frederick road meets U.S. 40 near the site.

Victor Ilenda of the Chateau Ridge Community Association said he is confident that the company will do right by the surrounding neighborhoods.

"They've been in the business a long time," said Ilenda, who heads the association in the 202-home development that borders the 150-acre site's eastern edge. "They know what they are doing."

Ilenda said his group was told the company wants to build 500 units at a time as a continuing-care community similar to the 23 other Erickson facilities in 12 states.

But Chateau Ridge residents oppose Erickson's request to use Burnside Drive through their community as an emergency access that would be locked to block normal traffic. They prefer such access be through the park instead, he said.

The community does not oppose Erickson's overall concept, Ilenda said.

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