Residents of the Old Columbia Pike Association went to court yesterday in an effort to save a picturesque and historic property in their Ellicott City neighborhood from development.
The residents want to protect the Keewaydin Farm House, built in 1913 by attorney James Clark, who later became a Circuit Court judge for Howard County and who was the father of former state Sen. James Clark Jr. Except for the house and some outbuildings, the 10.2-acre property off Old Columbia Pike is undeveloped, providing a rare glimpse of field and trees on a road otherwise lined with houses and businesses.
In December, the Howard County Board of Appeals approved a special exception that permits a two-story group care facility for the elderly to be built on about 5 acres of the Keewaydin property.
The brick-and-stucco building would have 87 rooms and 103 beds, and would be constructed by Manorhouse Retirement Centers Inc., based in Richmond, Va. Neighbors appealed the decision to Howard County Circuit Court.
"Our argument is that it is too big," said Robert I. Bernstein, president of the Old Columbia Pike Association. "It's inappropriate because of the size and the density."
"It's a very large structure, 60,000 square feet, larger by far than any other structure in that area," said Cynthia K. Hitt, the attorney for the neighborhood association. In court yesterday, she argued that the proposed facility -- with its commercial kitchen, 10 to 12 delivery trucks a week and 56-space asphalt parking lot -- would not fit into the residential nature of the neighborhood.
David A. Carney, the lawyer for Manorhouse, argued that the zoning laws allow for such a facility on the property, now owned by Edward and Cynthia Brush. Carney said the old farmhouse would still be visible from the road.
But Hitt said the farmhouse would be seen from Old Columbia Pike only if a person were standing directly in front of it. Someone in a car driving past at 40 mph, she said, would glimpse the historic house for two seconds.
Although considered historic because of its first owner, the house is not on any state or federal historic register. It is outside the limits of the Ellicott City Historic District, and while portions of Old Columbia Pike are considered scenic, the stretch in front of the old farmhouse is not.
The house is listed in an inventory of historic structures included in the Howard County General Plan, but that does not protect it from development.
"It would be improper from a moral standpoint to do anything with Judge Clark's residence," Carney said.
However, that's "not at issue with what's before the court on this appeal," he said.
Bernstein, who has lived on Old Columbia Pike for six years, wishes the proposed facility wasn't quite so big.
"If they wanted to put a much smaller elder care facility there, we have no problem with that," Bernstein said. "We're not against elder care facilities."
In a lament that has become all too familiar in the well-developed town, he said, "There's got to be some limit."