Appeals board approves Eldersburg senior project

After days of testimony, public comment and differing interpretations of zoning and land use codes and the 2002 Freedom Community Master Plan by opposing attorneys, the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals voted this week to overturn an earlier decision by the county's Planning and Zoning Commission — and approve a 177-unit senior housing development in Eldersburg.

The board voted unanimously Dec. 3 to back a slightly scaled-down version of Rockville developer Marc Silverman's assisted living center, to be called Adam's Paradise, proposed for a 16-acre tract at 5825 Oklahoma Road.

Silverman's original proposal called for 235 housing units, but he reduced the number to 190 before his proposal was denied by the Board of Planning and Zoning Commission in July.

After rehearing the case, the Board of Appeals reduced the number of housing units to 177, then reversed the commission's decision and approved the plan.

The proposal has met with considerable opposition from community members since it was introduced in April, particularly in regard to potential traffic from the senior housing facility around its busy intersection with Bennett Road.

Residents have also voiced numerous concerns about the impact that the proposed 39-foot-tall building would have on both the rural ambience of their neighborhood and on the value of their residential properties; and also testified about noise and light pollution, as well as the capacity of the Eldersburg area's emergency responders to deal with an increased concentration of elder residents,

Don Wooden, who lives on Oklahoma Road, almost directly across from the site, told board members the senior center building will "tower over everything around it. It's just not a fit for the area."

In a statement he read during the last round of public comment, a few hours before the board handed down its decision, resident Jan Carter said, "If the Marriott Corporation came forward with a proposal for a 100-unit facility ... it would no doubt be rejected out of hand.

"This proposal is contrary to public interest," said Carter, whose farm on Mineral Hill Road is located a short distance from the site of the proposed facility. "This proposal fails on many counts."

George McCubbin, a construction engineer who lives on Oklahoma Road, had urged the appeals board to remand the proposal back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further review of key issues, such as the site plan and the size of the facility.

McCubbin told the appeals board, "We have relied on the county for the last 25 years to uphold zoning laws and ensure orderly growth."

In previous testimony, Silverman had argued that the complex would not create any more traffic than if it were developed as conventional half-acre lots permitted under the property's current zoning.

And he also said there was a need in South Carroll for such a facility — he said in the 15-mile radius from which his facility hopes to draw, there are more than 20,000 residents 62 years of age or older.

As the four members of the board who were present began their deliberation, it became apparent they believed the Planning and Zoning Board had erred in initially rejecting the project.

They said the error came when the commission did not come up with an appropriate density (the number of living units) for the project, and did not offer sufficient guidance to Silverman about what a suitable density would be.

Yet even with the approval of the appeals board, Silverman faces another hearing later this month on the separate issue of obtaining a "conditional use" that the project requires under zoning laws.

The final site plan for Adams Paradise will also be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission at a future date.

As the decision came, the mood among the handful of community members, who recently hired land attorney use attorney David Bowersox to represent them, appeared to be one of exhaustion. Some slumped in their chairs, others shuffled out of the County Office Building's hearing room shaking their heads.

"This has not been an easy case," said long-time board member Howard Kramer, who also seemed exhausted at the close of Monday's more than seven-and-a-half-hour-long hearing.

"This is the longest hearing I've ever been exposed to," he said, "and I've been on this board for a lot of years."

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