Condos to stay just for seniors

Council rejects allowing sales to younger buyers

April 12, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

A plan to allow builders to sell up to 20 percent of condominiums in designated senior communities to younger people was defeated in a unanimous County Council vote that came after strong opposition from older residents.

The bill was requested by Brantly Development Group as a way to attract more buyers during the recession. But council members sided with county planners and scores of older residents who protested that they bought the specially zoned units because they were restricted for seniors. Changing the rules now would be wrong, they argued.

Paul Neumayer, 57, president of the Waverly Woods East Community Association, said the proposal was "completely unfair."

"We bought a house under one set of assumptions," he said. "We were told it would be all people our own age. There's a certain comfort of people at the same point of our lives."

The council agreed.

"I just don't think this is the right direction to go," Greg Fox said.

"I didn't hear any answers to how homeowners association would enforce this," Jen Terrasa said.

"I could not find any redeeming qualities in this bill," Courtney Watson said.

After the vote on Monday night, Columbia residents John and Liz McNeece, 59 and 56 respectively, said they were pleased. The couple are about to move into a senior development in Ellicott City, they said, and watched from the audience.

"It looks like the council did their homework," John McNeece said.

In other action, the council approved a $5.5 million contract with Energy Systems Group, which is to install energy-saving features on seven county buildings and then guarantee $8.3 million in savings over the next 15 years. If the savings don't materialize, the contractor must pay, not the county, said Joshua Feldmark, the county executive's environmental director.

A package of three bills was introduced that would allow for construction of a parking garage at the Savage MARC train station, part of a complex plan to eventually develop more than 400 apartments, a hotel, offices, stores and restaurants on the 13 acres next to the current station, replacing a surface parking lot.

A developer would buy most of that land from the state, and the money would be used to help finance the parking garage, which must go up before any other development can be built.

The county is using a device called Tax Incremental Financing to get the project rolling. The idea is to borrow to help get the garage built, and then pay off the bonds over time with revenues produced by the new mixed-use project.

Since the site is just two miles from Fort Meade, it is seen as an attractive place for new workers coming as part of the federal Base Realignment and Closure process, said county finance director Sharon Greisz. The project also fits into the county's plans for revitalization along the U.S. 1 corridor.

The bills are scheduled for a vote in May.

Another measure expected to be introduced Monday was not submitted.

A closely watched zoning regulation change that would establish a process for major redevelopment of Columbia's village centers was not introduced, even though the Planning Board voted on it March 23. The delay is apparently because of a dispute between the board and planning director Marsha McLaughlin over an undisclosed aspect of the board's recommendations.

The board was divided 2-2 on the issue with one member absent, but the issue was to come to the council without a board recommendation. Last week, McLaughlin asked for a closed board meeting on April 13 with county lawyers to try to resolve the issue. McLaughlin called it "a personnel matter" after an April 2 board meeting but would not elaborate.

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