Balto. Co. studies changes for senior housing density Philosophy would support smaller projects; elderly could stay in communities


In western Baltimore County, the Korean Women's Club wants to build 82 apartments on 3 acres, a haven for Korean-Americans and other seniors.

Near Towson, residents complain about Blakehurst, a large life-care development for wealthy seniors, charging that it dwarfs nearby single-family homes.

To address such issues -- and to preserve older neighborhoods -- Baltimore County may change its philosophy on housing for seniors. Instead of endorsing large, high-density projects, county officials are considering legal changes to allow more seniors to stay in their neighborhoods, by encouraging projects on tracts under 10 acres.

Baltimore County is searching for ways to accommodate new specialized housing for its fast-growing senior population, without hurting stable neighborhoods. What complicates the issue is the need to devise technical formulas for housing densities and other legal controls that will govern a wide variety of situations.

County law now allows a density bonus of up to 16 units an acre for seniors' projects on institutional or historic tracts of more than 10 acres. That provision was designed to encourage recycling of land owned by institutional and religious orders, which were looking for ways to develop or sell property no longer needed.

For example, Beth Tfiloh Synagogue used the provision to propose a 152-unit housing development for seniors on 35 acres near Pikesville. Normally, the zoning would allow 58 units.

County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley -- who plans to introduce several bills this month -- and the planning board propose eliminating the 10-acre provision. The changes would give the board more flexibility to modify or block high-density projects proposed for single-family neighborhoods.

If the proposed changes had been in effect earlier, the board might have been able to resolve complaints from Chestnut Ridge Neighborhood Association about Blakehurst, a development on 40 acres. Association President John Hodge-Williams says the bulk of the development, built on institutional land -- formerly Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart -- is "offensive" to residents.

Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller said the county wants to encourage apartment complexes of 50 to 100 units for lower middle-class seniors on small sites to help stabilize neighborhoods.

Such housing works on less land because the apartments are smaller than normal units and take up less space. They usually are occupied by only one person, who often doesn't have a car.

P. David Fields, the county's community conservation director, said the changes would allow older people who leave their homes to stay in their neighborhoods. Without the change, these projects, such as the 60-unit development planned in Lansdowne by Catholic Charities, must seek a conventional zoning change -- a long, expensive process.

Changes in the law also would help the Korean Women's Club project in Hebbville. The project doesn't qualify for a density bonus because the site is less than 10 acres and not institutional land.

"It would really be wonderful to build an old-age home here," said Kim Hale, building committee chairwoman. "I've been working the last four years on this."

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