Howard County's Design Advisory Panel requested the developer of Elm Street Development rework its proposal for the age-restricted housing project, Bethany Glen, to better blend its three types of units with the existing rural community.
The developer's latest draft proposal was presented before the seven-member panel Wednesday evening, where company vice president Jason Van Kirk and Bohler Engineering representatives shared plans to build 238 age-restricted housing units on the 67-acre property in Ellicott City. More than 75 people attended the meeting to listen to the panel's recommendations.
Valdis Lazdins, director of planning and zoning, said that the design advisory panel has a "very narrow role" in the development process, focusing strictly on its architectural character and location of path systems and landscaping.
The technical design committee consists of designers, landscape architects, architects and civil engineers.
"It's quite different from the planning board. There really isn't an opportunity for the public to speak here," Lazdins said. "[The panel] does not talk about consistency with the zoning or whether this is a good or bad project. They will make a recommendation that will be forwarded to the hearing examiner because this is a conditional land use, an age-restricted community."
A united front against a proposal to bring 238 age-restricted houses to what residents said is a dangerously congested area in Ellicott City continued to push the developer on the defensive Thursday night.
Van Kirk said Elm Street Development is seeking a conditional land use to include 178 two-story attached villas, 30 two-story detached single-family homes and 30 three-story elevator townhomes on the property.
Interstate 70 bisects the property, formerly part of the Harbin Estate. Van Kirk said the development will make way for the county's growing 55+ residents. The age-restricted housing will also help alleviate further overcrowding at nearby schools, like St. Johns Lane Elementary School and Mt. Hebron High School, since school-age residents won't be living there.
The proposed Bethany Glen development has faced backlash from the surrounding community, and the Howard County Association of Responsible Planning citizen group, since its introduction by Elm Street Development in April. Residents have expressed concerns of noise, traffic and environmental impacts, which were echoed during a county-required pre-submission meeting in June.
Van Kirk told the panel Dec. 7 that the number of units was reduced from the previously proposed 330 units allowed by property zoning.
Panelist Fred Marino, an architect, said he found the three-story townhomes to be "too overwhelming" when adjacent to the existing single-family homes.
"It seems as though you're just trying to get the unit count however you come up with doing that," Marino told the developer, referring to the sporadic mix of the three unit types.
Instead, Marino suggested Elm Street Development consider grouping more single-family homes together along Route 99, building them adjacent to existing communities that already have single-family homes.
"If I was going to live there at some point in my life, I might want to be associated more with the single-family homes and let them wrap and encase the rest of the project types in the center," Marino said.
To address highway noise, Van Kirk said landscape buffers would be built along both I-70 and existing neighborhoods lines, including Route 99, Postwick Drive, Michael's Way and Helmwood Court.
"I-70 will have a wall that is what you, by requirement, have to do to treat the noise coming off of the highway," Van Kirk said. "Then, the idea for Route 99 is to do as much berming as we can within that space as well as landscaping screening."
Neighborhood buffers would also include existing hedges, vegetation and fencing, he said. A community center and pool, walking trails and open spaces throughout the Bethany Glen community are also part of the development proposal.
The panel also asked the developer to further its studies of storm water management in the area to prevent flooding. In previous community meetings, residents raised concerns of flooding, particularly on the south side of I-70, which has been a problem in the Valley Mead neighborhood.
Van Kirk said the developer will address the issue in its design by mitigating downstream flooding through "innovative storm water management."
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Elm Street Development is currently working with the county and Maryland Department of the Environment, he said, to create a regional storm water facility that will control water volumes at Bethany Glen as well as those that come off of I-70, Route 99 and other significant drainage areas.
"That is not something that Howard County can require anyone to do, but we've recognized downstream concerns in Valley Mead and the existing conditions that they have there today," he said. "This site is located to be able to address some of those existing conditions that the county has not addressed."
While the county can require 100-year storm water management, Van Kirk said that will only treat the impervious areas created by the company.
"It won't change the volume going down the channel through Valley Mead at all," he said."
Based on the panel's suggestions, Van Kirk said the developer will continue to adjust its proposal for Bethany Glen. Don Taylor, vice chairman of the panel, said the proposed development must work hand-in-hand with the nearby properties.
"It's a great plan for a denser area, but for this area, the orientation needs to be rearranged," Taylor said. "When you drive on Route 99 and Bethany Lane, it certainly has a sense of being rural. Your idea of creating that buffer becomes extremely important to retain that character."