The Baltimore City zoning board Tuesday approved a variance for Springwell Senior Living to double its footprint in Mount Washington.
The Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals voted 3-1 in favor of the variance, despite opposition from 13 neighbors, who testified that the project would be too dense for the area of narrow roads, could pose traffic safety issues and would depress home property values.
Springwell, the former Wesley nursing home , already operates a 155,000-square-foot, 145-unit building at 2211 W. Rogers Ave., overlooking Northwest Park. The owner, Age Wave Properties LLC, wants to build second building of about 164,000 square feet to house another 103 units. Age Wave was seeking a variance to increase the allowable Floor Area Ration for the planned building.
Age Wave is also reconfiguring the existing building to increase the size of those units.
The trend in the senior care industry is that seniors want larger living quarters, said attorney William Shaughnessy Jr., representing Springwell.
Residents said they were not opposed to Springwell's mission as a senior care community, and they acknowledged that Springwell has been what City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector called "a good neighbor," offering the use of its green, spacious grounds for Mount Washington's annual Fourth of July festivities, among other events.
But residents complained that the project was too big for an area prized by homeowners for its large, low-density, single-family lots zoned R1B. They also testified that Rogers Avenue and Wexford and Enslow roads would be overwhelmed by increased traffic, especially if Springwell builds a new entrance on Enslow as planned.
"Allowing this Walmart-sized building ... I think will seriously impact the beauty and enjoyment of the community," testified resident Danielle Shapiro.
"We like the land. We like the open space," testified Cheryl Scungio, another resident.
Mac Nachlas, representing the Mount Washington Improvement Association, testified in qualified support of the development, but acknowledged that the association is concerned that Wexford and Enslow, both 16-foot-wide roads with no shoulders or sidewalks, would be negatively impacted by changing traffic patterns with a new building..
Spector, too testified in support of the project, saying it was too beneficial to seniors not to pursue. But she said a meeting is scheduled for Friday between resident and city officials — including representatives of the departments of Transportation, Planning and Recreation and Parks — to discuss road and other potential city issues related to the development,
Spector said Springwell should not be blamed for pre-existing road conditions near a facility that was originally built in the 1930s, predating the city's zoning code.
Shaughnessy, the Springwell attorney, echoed that argument, telling the zoning board, "These roads pre-exist us. We can't control it."
Several opponents testified that project would hut their property values, but board chairman Geoffrey Washington questioned how the continued use of the property for senior care would affect home prices..
Shaughnessy told the board that Springwell has already made some concessions based on meeting with neighbors, including setting the second building farther back from West Rogers Avenue to reduce its visual impact on nearby homes.
Springwell has also agreed to fund the construction of a spur on the south side of Enslow, from the Jones Falls Trail to the Mount Washington Swim Club.
Springwell has also been meeting with the city's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel about the project, which Shaughnessy said would cost between $20 million and $25 million.
"We've spent a lot of time redesigning it to address the concerns of the community," Shaughnessy told the zoning board., "We think we've gone above and beyond as far as addressing any neighbor issues."
Washington, the board chairman, said there was little the board could do about the roads.
"Our jurisdiction stops at the property line," he said.
Most board members were convinced that Springwell would not negatively impact the community.
"At the end of the day, the applicant owns the land," said board member Michael Barb. "I think they've made a number of concessions."
"I really don't see that the development is a problem," said board member Martin King.
And, Washington said, "The size and scale of it is minimal."
Spector said she thought the sticking points between Springwell and its neighbors could be worked out, but that the project must survive in some form.
"This has to happen," she said. "We have so many seniors that want to (age) in place."