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Board approves project for senior citizens; 25-unit complex had been rejected by county planners


Finding that a county agency had incorrectly assessed matters, the Howard County Board of Appeals unanimously approved last night a proposed 25-unit complex for independent senior citizens in rural West Friendship.

At issue was Ahmad Bagheri's plan to build the townhouse-style project on 13.75 acres in the 11000 block of Frederick Road.

Last month, the county Planning Board rejected the plan, noting a technical staff report from the county Department of Planning and Zoning that said the site was outside the public sewer district and would require an extension of those lines.

But in approving the proposal, the five-member Board of Appeals said that water lines had been extended to the proposed site in 1993 and the property was included in the public water and sewer service area in 1995.

"I think that the technical staff report got blown out of the water," said board member George L. Layman. "This technical staff report does not truthfully depict this case."

Jacob Hikmat, vice president of Mildenberg Associates, an Ellicott City engineering firm that helped plan the complex, said the owner, Bagheri, would pay the entire $400,000 cost to extend the sewer lines.

The board's decision underscored the need for housing for elderly residents, who find it increasingly difficult to live in a county that is one of the wealthiest in the nation.

"Howard County is seen as a county with seniors with some economic ability to afford the cost, and in some ways, that's true," said Duane St. Clair, assistant administrator of the county Office on Aging. "But for a lot of seniors on a fixed income, there's not a lot of affordable housing."

The demand for such housing is expected to grow over the next 15 years.

There are more than 23,000 county residents age 60 and older, according to the state Office of Planning. By 2015, that population is projected to more than double to 57,000.

Many of the existing facilities to house the senior citizens are chain-owned, assisted-living homes and smaller group homes, which total more than 1,000 beds.

Although their numbers are fewer, apartment complexes for independent elderly residents -- those who meet their daily needs without assistance by the building's staff -- also are enjoying some success.

The Heartlands in Ellicott City expanded in July, while two Shelter Properties-owned facilities, Colonial Landing in Elkridge and the Carriage Run facility in Columbia's Owen Brown village, boast waiting lists for vacant units.

Jeff Hettelman, vice president of Shelter Development, said senior citizens favor the facilities over single-family homes and townhouses.

"There's much more to take care of, and for older people, they're less able to do it," Hettelman said. By moving to the apartments, "they can stay near their families, their friends, their churches and their favorite places for shopping."

But Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said he opposed the West Friendship proposal because he believes that such facilities belong in areas that have the roads water and sewer lines to handle the high-density uses.

"There are a number of locations in the eastern part of the county that have these amenities," Rutter said. "They are appropriate locations. In this particular case, this is not appropriate in a rural area."

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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