Residents cool to apartments at Normandy Shopping Center

December 13, 2009|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

The prospect of an urbanized "avenue"-style replacement for the nearly half-century-old Normandy Shopping Center drew no opposition from about 60 Ellicott City residents at a public information meeting on the project, but the idea of including 200 apartments evoked concern.

The center's owners are proposing a mixed-use project that would combine retail, offices and apartments on the 23-acre site on U.S. 40 near Rogers Avenue. With their 48-year anchor Safeway supermarket gone, the Moxley family said it is time to update and redesign the aging center with one- and two-story commercial buildings in front and four-story apartments surrounding a parking garage in the rear. The change would be done in phases, they said.

The retail and offices would add up to 136,000 square feet and parking for 680 vehicles would be provided along the interior "streets" between the rows of store buildings. Another 400 garage parking spaces would be for the apartment residents.

"Retail trends have changed over 40 years," development lawyer William Erskine told the crowd that came to see the renderings and ask questions at the Ellicott City Senior Center Monday evening. The pictures represent a concept that could also change after rezoning is approved, he cautioned, but the idea is a White Marsh-style "avenue" look.

"Now is the time for the ownership entity to step up," Erskine said, referring to a table with a half-dozen members of the Moxley family who built the center, named it for a family member and still own it.

Plans for the zoning change are expected to be submitted to the county for processing soon, family members said, though demolition of the older buildings and construction of new ones would not start for several years at best.

Some residents were not happy, though.

"I don't have a problem with the commercial," said Bob Emmanuel, 74, a 35-year resident of the area. But the apartments, including 30 that would have below-market rents under a county housing program for middle-income families, raised his ire.

"With that come all kinds of problems," he said, mistakenly calling the 15 percent Moderate Income Housing Unit program required under county zoning law "low-income housing."

To qualify for rents starting at $1,144 including utilities, a family of four must have an income less than $61,003.

But Moxley family members said they plan to build "luxury" high-rent units that might cost about $1,500 a month, explaining that the county program was developed to help civil servants and other middle-class people afford to live in the county.

"We're not trying to bring low-income housing to your neighborhood," said Mark Moxley.

"Why rentals?" asked Tom Ridley, 49.

"When you sell it, it's gone. Condos don't bring in a continuing income," said the project's architect, Charles D. "Chuck" Harker.

Stephen Cohen, president of the Normandy Heights Improvement Association, a 76-home development bordering the center, said crime is a real fear.

"What you're hearing is not just anyone's imagination," Cohen said. "I've seen people out in the open smoking dope." Others complained, too.

"We are saturated with apartments. Schools are crowded and traffic is at gridlock," said Monica Machovec, who lives in Spring Ridge.

"Why do you have to have any residential there? Why not just shops?" asked Mike Cray, 49.

James R. "Rob" Moxley said that wouldn't work economically. "Practically, to use all of it for new commercial would be too much," he said.

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