Developer Michael L. Pfau's newest plans for the Ellicott City historic district were criticized last night by residents who asked the Howard County Planning Board not to approve his proposed housing development.
For months, Pfau has tried to build an office complex on Fels Lane. Now, he is in the early stages of a new project, which calls for 18 single-family homes on 15 acres at Church Road and Park Drive.
County subdivision regulations permit up to 20 homes on the land, according to the Department of Planning and Zoning. Department officials recommended that the board approve the project.
But neighbors - who also opposed the office complex proposal - argued last night that 18 homes is too many in the historic district.
They noted that the project will also need approval from the Historic District Commission, which can reject plans that members deem to be incompatible with the area.
Planning Board members said they did not intend to vote on the project last night because they're waiting for comments from the commission, which will be presented with the plans tonight.
The project engineer, Robert Vogel, told the Planning Board that the developer will preserve old trees and wetlands on the property. Vogel said the homes will be two stories, adding, "The intent is to keep them compact."
Voicing neighbors' concerns about the small size of the proposed lots, resident Richard Bright asked whether Vogel knew how much land existing homes sit on. Answering his own question, Bright said: "It's 2 1/2 to 20 acres."
Resident Michalle Ann Stevenson said the neighborhood is important for its historic and scenic qualities - at least one house is 150 years old, and the area is hilly and lined with trees.
She said the proposed development would be "out of context" with the rural feeling of the neighborhood, which includes park land. "Suburbia is not appropriate in that setting," she said.
David Carney, Pfau's attorney, responded, "You're suggesting that the Planning Board not follow the [zoning] criteria."
Sally Bright, an Ellicott City activist and wife of Richard Bright, said before the meeting that Pfau meets the zoning requirements but will face additional criteria because the area is in the historic district.
"This is a very unusual case: There aren't many subdivisions in the historic district," she said. "Any new building has been one here, two there."
Residents said they are also unhappy that the site, entirely forest, would lose many of its trees.
"Forty-four percent of the forest will be chopped down - clear cut - for houses," Sally Bright said. "That's a lot."