The clock is now officially ticking for a proposed development that would add 54 townhouses to the Riverview community in Lansdowne.
Last week's meeting at the Lansdowne Library between representatives of Pax Edwards and Enterprise Homes, the co-developers of the project, and community residents marked the first step in the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process for the project to work its way through the county development hearing process.
The 6-acre site in the 4300 block of Hollins Ferry Road is zoned to allow only 5.5 housing units per acre, so the PUD is necessary to allow the developers to build the full project.
"What happens now, I need to get the preliminary agents' reports from all the (county) department heads," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who must submit a request for a PUD to the County Council for its approval.
"Even if that happens (Council approval), there are still a lot of steps in the process," he said.
The Feb. 21 Post Submission Community Input Meeting featured drawings of where the 54 houses would go, along with an explanation of the features each residence would offer.
The two-story townhouses will have two bedrooms and two bathrooms while the three-story versions will have a garage, three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. The units will have 1,450 to 1,800 square feet of space.
The development's plans, which the co-developers stressed were "very conceptual," will include a 2,500-square foot community center, a playground and offer after-school daycare for tenants' children.
Rent for units in Hollins Place will range from $860-$1,029 a month, according to the presentation.
"If you look around the area for what you would get for $900 a month, there's no comparison," said Jeff Paxson of Paxson Edwards.
The location, between Hammonds Ferry Road and Ryerson Circle on Hollins Ferry Road, posed problems due to the hilly nature of the property.
"The challenge is the topography," said Judi Miller of Architecture by Design, the project's architect. "That's why we had to develop two types of units (two-story and three-story)."
She noted that the tax credit requirements for the project meant the units had to be energy efficient, in terms of windows, doors and insulation, as well as having Energy Star appliances and materials for flooring and cabinets that were environmentally friendly.
Those tax credits also meant the smallest bedroom could only be 10- by 11-feet, Miller said
"In market rate townhomes, the smallest bedroom can be 8- by 8(-feet). I could not afford to do that," she said.
"Plus, in a townhouse, you only have two exterior walls and you can't put a bedroom just anywhere. You have to have a window," she said.
One of the unique aspects of the project is that it is a "lease to purchase" development.
The tax credits that will help provide the financing for the $15-million project require the rental units will convert to homeownership. After 15 years of renting, tenants will have the option to purchase their homes.
That the project will add 54 rental units to the area was a concern for some residents at last week's meeting.
Brenda Harney, a community resident and longtime community activist, read a message on her ambivalence toward the project during the meeting's discussion period.
"This 15-year lease to purchase 54-townhomes you would like to build in our community may or may not be a success after 15 years, since no community of this type has reached the 15-year mark," she said. "Very few folks are jumping up and down about this project."
Paxson said before the meeting he understood the reluctance of some residents to support the project.
"There's always a stigma when you say the words, 'affordable housing'," he said. "People become concerned that it will turn into something they don't want in their community.
"But that's not what this community is," he said. "This is a community for working families who want to be homeowners."
Tenants will have to undergo credit and background checks, have an income of $25,000-$55,000 and a desire to be a homeowner.
After they move in, they must attend home maintenance classes, participate in a homeownership counseling program and become members of the Hollins Place Residents Association.
To entice tenants to become owners, the project will offer closing cost assistance and escrow down payment assistance after 15 years.
"We looked at a lot of sites," Paxson said. "We chose this location for its proximity to amenities, its proximity to schools.
"There's public transportation outside the site," he said.
"We wanted to make sure there are jobs nearby, grocery stores, you know, the stuff you need to live," he said.
Quirk said he wanted to hear from all the community groups and have all the information from the county agencies before making a final decision on whether he would put a resolution in for a PUD.
"But I'm leaning toward it," he said. "To me, it's critically important for new investment in areas like Riverview, Lansdowne and Baltimore Highlands."