Plan seen as aid to city; Proposed ordinance encourages rebuilding of decrepit units; 'Would be an incentive'; City staff, housing advocacy group support change


A proposed Westminster zoning amendment could encourage owners of decrepit apartment buildings to raze and rebuild by allowing them 20 percent more units if they do.

At a public hearing last night held by the Westminster Common Council, the proposal was supported by city staff and in a letter from a housing advocacy group.

Thomas B. Beyard, the city director of planning and public works, said the proposed ordinance "grew out of discussions a year or so ago about the comprehensive plan, neighborhood revitalization -- and some roadblocks in our zoning ordinances that would not allow certain structures to be replaced."

Under current law, a property owner who wants to rebuild would only be allowed half the number of units, he said. The higher-density apartment complexes exist because they predate the 1979 zoning laws, so landlords fix up rather than rebuild.

"This would be an incentive to have these units replaced with a bonus of 20 percent, so if you have 10, you could build 12," Beyard said.

Karen K. Blandford, the city's manager of housing and community development, supported the planning commission's proposal, saying, "It complements our efforts."

"There is a shortage of affordable housing -- a real shortage of rental housing, period," she said. "Our rental housing stock is getting older and older and older, making the problem really worse."

The council will discuss the proposed zoning amendment and vote later.

In other business, the council heard a request from the Montessori School of Westminster, which wants the city's authorization to seek a low-interest economic development revenue bond of as much as $1 million for a new building.

The 25-year-old school has lost its lease and must move next fall from its longtime home at St. Benjamin's Lutheran Church on Kriders Cemetery Road, said Headmistress Nancy Title.

St. Benjamin's has decided to start a school, Title said, "so we had to go, [but] they've been wonderful to us over the years."

Montessori has about 130 pupils from age 3 through seventh grade, and plans to add an eighth grade next year, she said. The school has land on which to build.

The request must be discussed by the council and have a public hearing next month before action, said city attorney John B. Walsh Jr. The city has helped other nonprofit organizations obtain favorable financing, he said, and would not be under financial obligation.

The school would be outside city limits, but Walsh said the city's bond counsel has determined that it would benefit Westminster because its teachers and pupils come from and serve the city.

Westminster's is one of about 70 Montessori schools in Maryland, Title said. In the early 1900s, Italian physician Maria Montessori developed its nontraditional approach, which emphasizes a stimulating environment that encourages pupils to discover by using all their senses.

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