Lutherville residents say Huff bill undermines negotiations with College Manor

More than a dozen Lutherville residents came to Tuesday's County Council work session to ask 3rd District Councilman Todd Huff to table a bill he drafted that would allow College Manor, a retirement and nursing facility on West Seminary Road, to build an addition without a zoning change.

"We've been in negotiations with College Manor, (and) we've come to a good agreement after many times of talking to them," said Theresa Byrd of Lutherville during the work session. "I don't know why, all of a sudden, you've stepped in with this thing that doesn't protect the neighborhood."

The legislation, opponents said, came at a time when community members believed they were close to a covenant agreement with College Manor that would allow the facility to expand as it wishes — but protect the community against additional growth.

College Manor submitted its entire 11.5-acre property for an increase in zoning density as part of the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, which allows for zoning changes in Baltimore County. The center wants to build an 80-bed addition to its current building, which would be converted into 12 apartments. The existing building currently houses 80 beds.

Huff said all of the provisions of his bill, including the required five acres of open space, the setback from the front and side property line and height requirements, were taken from the covenant that the two sides are negotiating.

"Just so everyone has a better understanding, it was actually written to protect the community," Huff said during the work session.

Patricia Bentz of the Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County (formerly the Baltimore County Historical Trust) said that of the 107 assisted living and nursing homes in Baltimore County, College Manor is the only one that meets the criteria of the bill — that it be located on 11 acres of land, be in a historic district and contain an existing building at least 50 years old.

Bunny Renaud, director of College Manor, said Huff's bill was written after talks broke down between the Lutherville Community Association and College Manor, and she applauded Huff for "trying to move the process forward."

"(The legislation) did bring the community association back to the table," she said.

But now that negotiations have resumed, Lutherville residents said they want to finish what they started.

"Everything the bill tries to address, a protective covenant does more completely, more clearly and more permanently," said Earl Jones, a Lutherville resident. "We don't need a Band-Aid. We need a more permanent solution."

Patricia Pugh of Lutherville said historic neighborhoods across the county could be harmed by the standard Huff would set. And Marcia Hettinger wondered aloud what the zoning process is in place for if it can be circumvented.

"I feel this is not a win-win for the historic Lutherville area," Hettinger said. "I do not feel our best interests have been considered."

Barbara Bateman said she attended the work session because she's "very afraid."

"This opens the door … in a permanent way to forever alter our neighborhood and way of life," she said.

If the legislation is passed, any development of the property would also have to be approved by the Lutherville Community Association's historic committee, and by the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Committee.

During the work session, Huff insisted he was listening to the resident's comments and wanted, "to put this thing to bed."

The bill is scheduled for vote on Monday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. at the County Council's legislative session in Towson.

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