With permit in hand, Richard Ainsworth was ready to begin a $248,500 expansion that would triple the size of his group home in Davidsonville.
But three weeks after Anne Arundel County officials approved the building permit, planning and zoning officials took it back. XTC And Mr. Ainsworth, owner of Kris-Leigh Assisted Living, Inc., is left holding a plan he may never use.
"When I started this process, I was given information from the county stating that I could do this," Mr. Ainsworth said. "Based on this information, I moved forward. . . . Now, essentially, what the county has said is, 'Sorry, we made a mistake and you lose.' "
In his letter to Mr. Ainsworth, Frank Ward, director of the county's Permit Application Center, said the center repealed its permit when the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene rescinded its earlier approval.
The state agency apparently found a law stipulating that the state must approve any expansion of an assisted-living center, such as the Kris-Leigh group home, before the county could do so, according to Mr. Ward. The home is in the 3900 block of Birdsville Road.
Mr. Ward also noted that the state questioned the number of occupants the 6,110-square-foot addition could hold. Mr. Ainsworth wanted to add 12 bathrooms and nine bedrooms.
State law limits occupancy to 20 people, but the state health department feared that as many as 35 people would be living at the Davidsonville assisted-living home.
"The health department was premature in its approval," Mr. Ward said. "Based upon the feedback from the health department, we felt that it was appropriate to recall the permit."
The sudden turn of events, which Mr. Ainsworth learned about Tuesday, has left him at a loss for what to do next.
"It's all such new information, I need to see how things evolve," he said. "I don't know what direction I'll be going in."
Mr. Ainsworth said the home, which currently has 11 occupants, would have housed 20 people if his expansion had been built. Neighbors were ecstatic when they learned about the county's change of heart.
"Democracy works," said Jan Power, 45, of Whispering Oaks Lane. "The entire community got together and pointed out the inconsistencies, what was granted and what violated the spirit of the community. And in one voice, the community made that known and was heard."
Gail Enright, 55, secretary of the Davidsonville Area Civic Association, made it clear that "we're not a bunch of vigilante watchdogs."
But group home owners "should be sensitive to the community in which they hope to make a home," she said.
Mr. Ainsworth said his addition, which he said was modeled after an "upscale, personal residence" in Carroll County, is not the monstrosity neighbors made it out to be.
"Until somebody looks at the pictures, which I have, how can they say that it looks like a dormitory?" he asked. "I guarantee that if they came to look at the pictures, they'll say, 'Wow, it does look nice.' "
Mr. Ainsworth said he does not think pending legislation that would limit the size of group homes on county lots and the number of occupants would affect his plans.
And he said he is not unsympathetic to neighbors' concerns.
"I'm into the health care business because I feel that I can improve the quality of life for seniors," he said. But "I'm a homeowner myself, and I'm sensitive to both sides of the issue."