They thought they had won the war, but Glenwood residents trying to prevent the first condominium complex from being built in western Howard County find themselves preparing for battle again.
Opponents of the proposed development for senior citizens, who contend that it's too big for the area, are mobilizing for a county Board of Appeals hearing tomorrow night - three years after developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. proposed building the 116 condo units.
It's been a long haul for both sides.
In 1998, the Board of Appeals granted Reuwer a special exception to allow construction of the condominiums, Villas at Cattail Creek, on the 58-acre site. Residents appealed the decision to county Circuit Court, and Judge Lenore R. Gelfman ruled in January that the board erred because a planned common dining area did not meet county zoning regulations.
Under the original plans, villa residents would have used a dining facility at nearby Cattail Creek Country Club.
Reuwer appealed Gelfman's decision to the state Court of Special Appeals but also developed plans with a common dining area that would not serve food. The Howard County Planning Board recommended in May that the Board of Appeals approve the new proposal.
Residents, who thought the court decision was a victory, said they are frustrated and upset that the plans won't die. More than 50 people met Thursday night in Woodbine to learn about the Board of Appeals hearing.
"We thought we won, and we've found it was just a three-year delay," said Dave Hinton of Glenwood.
Hinton and others said their primary concern is that condominiums aren't appropriate in an area that does not have public utilities. They say the townhouse-style buildings could dry up the area's wells, and that the septic systems could fail, contaminating the Triadelphia Reservoir.
Glenelg High School's well-publicized septic problems - the system is considered to be marginal and can't accommodate more students - makes residents more leery of the Cattail condos.
"You just can't put condominiums on well and septic systems," said Joe Carta, a farmer who lives next to the site on Route 97. "It just doesn't work."
Reuwer disagrees. . He said his septic systems would have an extra cleaning step to keep them working well. "It's a red herring, it's a scare tactic, and I think if you get to the bottom of it all, the emotion is a pretty basic 'not in my back yard,'" he said.
Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the state Department of the Environment, which has studied the plans, said officials are "confident" the likelihood of a septic failure is minimal. "The reason why most septic systems fail is people don't understand how they work, and they don't maintain them," he said. "Usually in a commercial system like this, you don't have a problem."
Ching Tien, chief of the agency's ground-water discharge permit division, said a pretreatment unit proposed for the septic system would make it "much cleaner than an individual septic tank."
"This is a high-class septic system," he said.
Reuwer said his condominium plan is the best use of the land. He said he could have built 76 four-bedroom houses on the site, but senior citizens in 116 condo units - each of which would have one bedroom and a den - would use "much less" water and sewer than families in 76 houses, he said.
Because the condominiums would be clustered, much of the land would be preserved as open space, Reuwer added.
He said he is open to changes. He met recently with residents to hear concerns and said he is waiting for their proposals. "If we get a reasonable response back, we would seriously consider amending our petition," he said.
Carta said residents want single-family homes and told Reuwer and his associates that at the meeting. "They said no," he recalled. "So we said, 'We're going to fight you all the way.'"
Residents said they have felt intimidated by Reuwer's company but are especially frustrated with the county. They find it difficult to track the development process and contend that rules aren't being followed. The waiting period to resubmit development plans is two years if they're turned down the first time, Hinton said.
Board of Appeals members, who decided to hear the new proposal, apparently thought they were following the waiting-period regulation to the letter.
The rules require a waiting period if the Board of Appeals denies the project, said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the Department of Planning and Zoning. A judge, not the board, ruled against the plans, he said.
Susan Gray, Carta's attorney, said Gelfman's ruling was that the board had erred. "Her decision was, essentially, the board's decision," Gray said.
Residents see their fight as part of a larger battle to keep the western county rural.
"My concern is that this will set a precedent for more multifamily units," said John W. Wisor of Glenwood.
"We're the ones who have to live with this, not them," Carta said.