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Historic home can be converted to offices, Board of Appeals says


Ellicott City residents who fought a proposal to convert a historic home into offices promised yesterday to keep a close eye on the property after a county Board of Appeals decision to approve the project.

Housing developer L. Earl Armiger was granted a special request to move his company, Orchard Development Corp., from 3300 North Ridge Road in Ellicott City to a two-story home in the 3900 block of Old Columbia Pike.

Under the special exception, Mr. Armiger can have a maximum of eight cars on the property and must screen a planned parking lot from public view. Operating hours will be from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekends.

The board eliminated some conditions, including one that would have terminated the special exception if the 7-acre site was subdivided into more than five lots and one prohibiting customers from visiting the office -- a development that cheered Mr. Armiger.

"That was wise on the part of the Board of Appeals," said Mr. Armiger who said he now can meet freely with architects, engineers and other professional consultants.

The house, a product from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, is on the county's historic sites inventory.

Neighbors said they would make sure Mr. Armiger followed the remaining conditions.

"Hopefully, he will be aware that neighbors will keep a close eye on him," said Laura Bussard, a Westminster resident who grew up across the street from the house.

Many residents opposed the special exception because they worried it would lead to piecemeal development in their neighborhood. Others feared that Mr. Armiger would develop the property.

Opponents blamed their defeat on a poor showing at county meetings and inadequate preparation in the face of Mr. Armiger's attorney, witnesses and documents.

"He certainly was well prepared," said Old Columbia Pike resident Lee Davis. He said that Mr. Armiger's presentation "was more impressive than a couple of people talking extemporaneously."

Mr. Armiger said he received a special exception because his request met all county guidelines.

"I would have been surprised if they didn't [grant a special exception] based on similar cases," Mr. Armiger said.

He added that many of the neighbors' complaints -- such as potential development -- had little to do with rules governing a special exception. "The Board of Appeals made it very clear that they were focusing on the special exception," Mr. Armiger said.

The developer said he hopes to open his new office in April after installing new plumbing, wiring and a new central air conditioning and heating system.

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