Housing project for elderly rejected


Baltimore County's Planning Board overwhelmingly rejected yesterday a Pikesville-area housing project for the elderly that has pitted a synagogue against many of its neighbors.

Veteran planning officials called it the most bitter development dispute to come before the board in years, and both sides had become so entrenched in their positions that mediation efforts failed dismally.

Beth Tfiloh Congregation, in the 3300 block of Old Court Road, wants to develop a 152-unit senior citizens housing center on a 35-acre site that already includes the synagogue and a school. The project would consist of 72 independent-living units in three three-story buildings, along with an 80-bed assisted-living facility.

With little discussion, the board voted 9-1 to reject the project before a standing-room crowd in the County Council chambers. One member abstained, and four were absent.

Jules Lichter, an attorney and officer of the synagogue, said Beth Tfiloh would appeal the denial to the county Board of Appeals. "There was not one negative comment from the board about the design of our project," he said.

Elaine O'Mansky, vice president of the Old Court-Green Spring Improvement Association, said her joy was tempered by the knowledge that the fight would continue.

"We've been at this for four years," she said. "It's sad that the synagogue isn't willing to come up with something that is compatible with our community instead of prolonging the battle."

Opponents have said they would prefer the synagogue build single-family houses.

The synagogue was seeking a special approval that would not change the property's zoning, which allows 58 housing units.

"The key issue for me is the affordable-housing issue, and when the synagogue officials talk about their units going for $200,000, that doesn't fit into my definition of affordable elderly housing," said board member I. William Chase from Owings Mills.

Mr. Lichter said that nowhere in the county's laws concerning housing for the elderly is affordable housing mentioned.

"It's unfortunate, but this is the most bitter and difficult project to come before the board in a long time," said Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III, county planning director.

County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a 2nd District Democrat who represents the area, held a meeting two weeks ago to mediate the dispute. No progress was made.

In a handbook detailing their position, opponents -- including eight area neighborhood and homeowner groups -- charged that the project was out of character with their single-family homes. They also said the project would increase traffic on narrow, winding Old Court Road.

Mr. Lichter noted that the development plan has been changed substantially during the past three years to address community concerns. Supporters pointed to the synagogue's record of service to the community and said housing for the elderly was sorely needed in the area.

The Office of Planning and Zoning recommended that the project be approved.

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