By Amanda Yeager, email@example.com
12:12 PM EDT, October 3, 2013
Residents of the community of Village Towns, a few turns off Route 1 in Elkridge, have seen a lot of development crop up around their neighborhood in recent years.
But before the latest — a plan for a development called Deep Falls — is approved by the County Council, they say they hope they can first alleviate some of the existing problems in their own neighborhood, including congested streets and a lack of amenities.
They argue the new development, whose residents will have to enter through their streets, will bring added traffic and endanger the safety of their children.
They don't have much time to make their case. For developers of Deep Falls, a moderate-income housing project, to apply for low-income housing tax credits from the government, the project must get the go-ahead by a council vote Oct. 7.
The development would add two apartment buildings behind the community with a total of 60 units, divided between one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. There would also be a lodge with a gym and community room. The site is about 6 acres in total.
John Lawall, president of the Village Towns 2 condo association, said he first heard about the project in August, when the developer, Ingerman Group, held a meeting to present preliminary plans and get community input.
Neighbors say they are not at all opposed to moderate-income housing nearby. But they are hoping to delay the process for another year to have time to work out the details.
However, John Randolph, development principal for the Ingerman Group, and the county's housing department director, Tom Carbo, said in a work session Sept. 23 that waiting a year opens the project up to financial and logistical uncertainties.
The 259-unit townhouse community at Village Towns has a cozy atmosphere — neighbors, many with young families, greet each other as they pass on the street or drive by in their cars. But the physical coziness of the neighborhood has gotten to be a little too close for comfort, residents said.
Most noticeably, the community has a parking issue. While about three-quarters of the townhouses have a parking garage, residents said not everyone who has one uses it, either because their car is too large to comfortably fit in the space, or because they need to use the garage as a storage area.
As a result, parking has been pushed out onto the street, narrowing driving space for passing cars, and, in some cases, effectively turning streets from two-way to one-way passages.
"We've battled many issues, but the most difficult has been the parking," said Lawall, a resident of the community since 2009. "When [the current board] first took over we knew that the parking had gotten out of hand and needed to be addressed immediately."
Village Towns' three condo associations — each representing a different phase of the community — have attempted to regulate parking in the ways they can. Some portions of the community have painted lines for parking spaces along the street. Some neighbors have started parking additional cars in front of their own driveways.
And, some board members walk the neighborhood in the evenings, checking for resident vehicles parked in visitor spots or outside of an acceptable space.
But the difficult parking situation has created what many residents consider to be a safety concern for the neighborhood's children, many of whom are elementary-school-aged or younger.
"My wife and I have a 2-year-old daughter," Lawall testified in a public hearing before the County Council Sept. 16. "The day will come very soon where she will want to play outside with her friends and classmates. But in a war zone of traffic, her safety will have to supersede recreation."
Adding to the safety issue is the neighborhood's lack of play space for children. Backyards are uneven and hilly — Lawall referred to them as "ski slopes" — and dotted with trees.
Beyond backyards, the neighborhood has one "sport court," a concrete square with a basketball hoop where kids can bounce balls or draw with chalk, but Lawall said it wasn't sufficient or appropriate for all ages.
The lack of play space pushes kids out to the street. On a recent evening, neighborhood children congregated next to parked cars and a power box.
Ingerman Group held another meeting with neighbors in September in an effort to address the community's concerns. The developer offered to build an additional playground and proposed two traffic solutions — an additional access point at the neighborhood's northwest corner and a new traffic flow that would make some streets one-way to funnel traffic more efficiently.
Village Towns 1 HOA president Dave Burks doubted either solution would make a difference. He said he didn't think residents would respect traffic flows.
"What's the shortest distance between Point A and Point B? People are going to go straight through the community," he said.
But, he said, "We do appreciate what the housing commission is trying to do. We are still working, we are still talking, and that is great."
District 2 Council member Calvin Ball, who represents Village Towns, said he was hopeful the community and developer could reach an acceptable solution.
"My hope is that the issue or the resolution of Deep Falls is something that not only positively impacts full-spectrum and workforce housing, but also helps address some of the current community issues such as traffic, parking and amenities," he said. "Regardless of the resolution of Deep Falls, I will continue to work with the community."
Lawall said he was just hoping for some answers.
"What's the bottom line here?" he asked. "Are we going to come to some sort of solution or is it always going to be a problem?"