Ft. Howard Plans Junked

Veterans Retirement Community Bogged Down In Disputes

August 20, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

After years of delays in getting Fort Howard redeveloped as a retirement community for veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday scrapped those plans and said it will seek a new partner for the project.

Fort Howard Senior Housing Association had signed a 75-year lease with the VA in 2004 to build what would have been the nation's largest continuing-care community for veterans. But the project, Bayside at Fort Howard, had become enmeshed in disputes over building permits, zoning regulations and taxes. Area residents also were concerned about increased traffic and noise in their southeast Baltimore County community.

The county said the developer had to obtain local building permits and pay county property taxes to offset the impact on roads and services. The developer, though, contended that federally owned land is exempt from county regulations and local property taxes.

"You cannot come in and ignore local land-use and environmental laws," said Don Mohler, county spokesman.

Representatives of Fort Howard Senior Housing Association, who did not return calls for comment Wednesday, argued that the county's requirements would lead to a decrease in the number of units and add significantly to the cost of housing, which was intended to be affordable to the state's veterans.

Fort Howard Senior Housing Association had envisioned 1,300 residential units in two dozen renovated buildings and several new ones, a history museum, a large marina and retail shops on the North Point peninsula campus of the hospital, which closed in 2002. Cost was estimated at more than $100 million for a mix of housing that would include independent and assisted living units as well as a nursing care facility.

But three years after ground was broken, not a single unit had been completed and prospective residents were given their deposits back.

Federal and county officials said Wednesday that they support the search for a new developer committed to creating a veterans community.

The project may be scaled back, but U.S. Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger is committed to working toward an acceptable plan, said the Democrat's spokeswoman, Heather Moeder Molino.

"Veterans deserve a high-quality, affordable community," she said.

County Executive James T. Smith said he is confident other developers will be interested in working on the Fort Howard project.

"The stalemate should be over and I am encouraged we will get true movement on this project," he said. "I am sure there are developers, particularly in this economic climate, who would welcome the opportunity to provide quality housing for veterans and who would expect to comply with our development regulations."

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