Redevelopment of Hilltop Housing to begin in Ellicott City

A project to rebuild affordable housing and a large recreation center in Ellicott City will begin in early December with the demolition of the Hilltop Housing complex.

At the same time, Howard County officials are turning to state lawmakers as they try to secure $500,000 in state bond funding toward replacing an adjacent recreation center that they hope will be a lure for market-rate renters in the mixed-income community that is on the drawing board.

Work at the Hilltop site and the new recreation center will comprise the first phase of redevelopment.

County Housing Commission plans call for Hilltop Housing on Mount Ida Drive and the neighboring Ellicott Terrace apartments to be replaced by a mix of 273 housing units, some at market-rate and others subsidized, said Stacy Spann, housing director for the county.

Included will be a new, 45,000-square-foot public recreation center, which County Executive Ken Ulman said will be a "fabulous state-of-the-art recreation center that will uplift not just the immediate community but is for the entire area," to replace the existing Roger Carter Recreation Center.

The result will be a new, and so far nameless, community that is to be completed in 2014, Spann said.

"It is going to be, we think, one of the best communities built in the state and a possible national model," he said.

However, some nearby residents have raised questions about the project.

Longtime Chapelview resident Patricia Leepa, 76, said her concerns include increased traffic, insufficient parking, and the impact on area schools and nearby Main Street. She said the current buildings do not seem to be beyond rehabilitation and that the plan would double the number of units at the Hilltop site.

Tom Marshall, 48, vice president of the nearby Chapelview Community Association and a critic of the planned rec center, said that in the sour economy there are more pressing needs than indoor swimming pools and gyms — especially with two facilities nearby.

"The Y is right up the street from us, and they just renovated. I just think the government shouldn't be in the business of competing with private industry," said Marshall, who added that he is a YMCA member.

The Roger Carter building will include a climbing wall, the pool, exercise rooms and other facilities, Spann said. The public facility will be close to the county government complex.

The coming demolition of Hilltop's 94 public housing units signals that the move to build 198 modern units in its place is on the way to reality. The residences will be a mix of rental units in garden apartments and in buildings that look like townhouses and manor homes.

The work at the Hilltop site is expected to cost $38.7 million, the recreation center about $15 million. The estimate for the Ellicott Terrace work is about $16.5 million.

Hilltop and the recreation center will be completed first, in 2013, Spann said.

The new rec center will be built across the street from the existing one, which Ulman said is small and outdated.

In the second phase of construction, Ellicott Terrace's 60 units and the old recreation center will be torn down and 75 units will be built on the sites.

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