The months-long struggle over a proposal to squeeze 30 new townhouses for senior citizens on a 6.9-acre piece of land off Frederick Road in Ellicott City neared its climax at a hearing last night with sharp comments from opponents.
"Frederick Road can't handle any more traffic," said Angela Lovern, who lives directly opposite the driveway where residents would enter the proposed development.
She testified before the county Board of Appeals' hearing examiner that more traffic would increase already hazardous conditions. In 2000, a driver rear-ended her vehicle as she made a left turn into her driveway, Lovern said.
"Each and every time we try to turn into our driveway, it causes a traffic jam behind us," she said. "I feel as if I'm taking my life into my own hands."
Developer Scott Wade said while waiting for the hearing to begin that county officials originally supported the project.
"They said, 'This is what the community needs. This is the perfect place for it,' " he said.
The crowd at the hearing in the George Howard Building was eager for a decision, but the county hearing examiner, Thomas P. Carbo, said that he would listen to additional evidence March 31 before deciding whether to allow the proposed complex. The later hearing was scheduled to allow opponents of the complex time to review additional materials submitted by the developer, he said.
The debate over the proposed Kimberly Homes complex has sparked a broader reconsideration of a county plan to encourage seniors to "age in place" rather than leave -- taking their tax dollars with them.
Although the area where Kimberly Homes is proposed is zoned to allow about two houses an acre, legislation to promote more housing for adults 55 and older would permit up to five units an acre. Many residents believe such dense development does not match the character of their neighborhood of single-family homes.
A report by the county Department of Planning and Zoning concurred, stating that the project did not have enough buffering from other dwellings and was not compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.
Patrick Crowe, who lives on Jay Drive, near the proposed development, helped to coordinate opposition. In addition to renting a lighted sign to announce the time of the first hearing, his group lobbied County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon to prevent similar projects.
Merdon has proposed increasing the minimum number of units for age-restricted housing from 20 to 50, thus increasing the minimum number of acres required for a project.
"You're creating a community instead of putting a small infill development inside an existing community," Merdon said. "The communities themselves will stand alone. The community will be compatible with itself."
Changing the minimum to 50 units would reduce the number of eligible R-20 parcels in eastern Howard County from 80 to 36, said Jeff Bronow, chief of research for the planning department. And all of those may be not be able to be developed, he cautioned.
Merdon said increasing the limit would also have other benefits. For example, age-restricted developments must include a community center with at least 20 square feet per home. A 20-unit development can have one as small as 400 square feet.
Merdon said a hearing on his petition would be held March 20 before the Planning Board.