Zoning hearing set today on plan to spur senior housing Change would allow 16 apartments per acre in some Balto. Co. areas


The paint is barely dry on Trinity House, East Towson's newest subsidized apartment complex for seniors -- and the waiting list is already up to 101.

That's typical for housing projects for the elderly in Baltimore County, where 20 percent of the county's roughly 700,000 people are 60 or older. Their ranks are projected to top 200,000 in 20 years.

Today, the county planning board will hold a public hearing on a proposed change to the zoning laws that could help ease that demand. The change would make it easier to build apartments for the elderly in residential neighborhoods.

Competing pressures in the county pit plans for more affordable housing for seniors against some county councilmen's fears of congestion and blight in older neighborhoods.

"We've built a lot, but there's a tremendous need," Hillorie Morrison, a county planner said about the senior housing. The county has 22 subsidized projects for seniors, and several more planned.

Planners recommend easing zoning laws to encourage construction of small apartment complexes on small plots as a way of keeping more seniors in their neighborhoods.

The proposal to be discussed today would allow as many as 16 small apartments per acre in residential neighborhoods where the current rule is only 3.5 dwellings per acre, subject to planning board approval.

"I'm opposed to it. It just provides a loophole for high density," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat. Gardina wants the redevelopment of often-blighted apartments in older neighborhoods, rather than construction of new 50- to 125-apartment complexes over several acres.

That's easier said than done, according to private nonprofit groups that build the apartments.

Dale McArdle, director of housing for Catholic Charities, which built and manages Trinity House, said the new units are designed especially for the elderly. They have wider doors, are handicapped accessible and have gathering rooms where residents can socialize.

"These are not just apartments where you squirrel people away," he said.

The argument for more apartments per acre also is bolstered by the units' smaller living spaces, typically one bedroom, a small kitchen, a bathroom and a small living-dining room. Many elderly VTC don't drive, requiring less parking.

It is difficult and expensive to renovate old apartments for use by senior citizens, said Carl Scheffel, director of Visions for America, a nonprofit group with plans to build a 97-unit project for the elderly in Essex, near the 165-unit Hopkins Village senior complex at 3 Bret Court.

Trinity House, which took advantage of higher densities allowed in town centers such as Towson, has 82 units on 1 acre of land in a four-story, U-shaped building two blocks east of the Towson Library on Chesapeake Avenue.

The building features large gathering places off the lobby, a library, a large covered porch and lounges on each floor, in addition to such features as emergency pull-cords in each bedroom and bath and a sophisticated electronic security system.

Residents pay between $400 and $500 a month, and may not earn more than $18,950 annually for one person, or $21,650 for two to qualify for a space.

McArdle and others noted that last fall Gardina and other councilmen reduced the amount of land in the county zoned for apartments, to please neighborhood activists worried about congestion and blight.

"We don't always find land in town centers," McArdle said, noting the ideal location for senior housing is in settled older areas close to stores and services. If the buildings can't be placed on relatively small lots, they become too expensive to build.

Morrison's proposal would allow the planning board to review each project, known as a Planned Unit Development, and approve it.

Gardina and Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat Kevin Kamenetz oppose allowing higher-density new development in older residential neighborhoods, unless the County Council gives specific approval by changing the zoning.

The planning board meeting will begin at 5: 30 p.m. in the County Office Building.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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