Senior community may get exemption from growth freeze

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A $30 million expansion that will add 100 apartments to the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville is expected to be the first development project to qualify for an exemption under Carroll County's new growth freeze, county officials said yesterday.

"We did have exemptions we said we'd look at and we're holding our word," said County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

Gouge said she expects the expansion to occur "unless our staff comes up with something we're not aware of."

The 23-year-old Fairhaven facility hopes to add 100 independent-living apartments - complete with high-speed Internet access - and renovate 66 assisted-living units. Many of the apartments will be equipped with washers and dryers and balconies, said Charlie Clark, vice president for facility development at Episcopal Ministries for the Aging Inc., Fairhaven's parent company.

"They're looking for more services and more amenities," Clark said of the community's roughly 400 residents, who must be at least age 60 to live there.

The Fairhaven property sits on about 300 acres along Route 32 in Sykesville, making Episcopal Ministries the county's 10th-largest real estate taxpayer. It also is Carroll's sixth-largest employer with 550 employees, 80 percent of whom live in the county, Clark said.

Enacted June 10, the growth freeze is designed to prevent residential development from overwhelming schools, roads and the water supply. The freeze does not apply to developments of three or fewer lots, developments in the county's towns or those that have been approved by the county Planning Commission.

Continuing care retirement communities such as Fairhaven are eligible for exemptions because they do not burden schools or cause much traffic, said Kimberly Millender, the county attorney.

The county commissioners claimed a public mandate for the growth freeze, but the plan has encountered intense opposition from the development community.

Gouge said she does not expect public opposition to Fairhaven's additions.

"They've always been pretty community-oriented," she said of Episcopal Ministries. "I imagine that will make a difference in people's minds."

A public hearing on the proposed expansion will be held Tuesday, and the commissioners are expected to vote late this month or early next month on whether the development will be allowed to proceed.

To qualify for exemptions to the freeze, petitioners must be able to show that they will suffer a hardship if the project is not allowed to go forward. They also must present plans to extend water and sewer to the area if those services are not in place, Millender said.

The county is studying the capacity of the water and sewer system around Fairhaven, Millender said.

"Based on what they've filed, I anticipate that they will be allowed" to expand, she said.

Carroll County has seen an increasing demand for senior housing in recent years. About 100 people are on the waiting list for Fairhaven.

Carroll Lutheran Village has a waiting list of 250 and recently announced a $60 million expansion that will double the size of its Westminster campus.

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