Housing plan for Arundel airport could come up for vote tomorrow


A few weeks ago, a local developer's plan to turn Suburban Airport in Laurel into a townhouse development called RiverWood sounded unlikely.

The 54-acre airport on a sliver of land along Brock Bridge Road borders a flood plain. It would require major rezoning in an area teeming with development. And with small Washington-area airports hurting in the wake of post-Sept. 11 restrictions, county officials had pledged to keep the runway open.

But tomorrow, the Polm Cos. plan for 641 townhouses and condominiums is up for a possible vote at the Anne Arundel County Council, buoyed by a need for affordable housing -- and Polm's shrewd marketing.

Though the seven-member council seemed unlikely to approve the proposal a few weeks ago, several members now say they're undecided.

They're intrigued by the Millersville company's plan to build what it calls "work-force housing" -- homes in the $190,000 to $300,000 range that Polm says will appeal to teachers, police officers and firefighters who can't afford to live in the county where they work.

"There is no one who will disagree that there is a need for more moderately priced housing," said Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican who added that he has not decided either way on RiverWood. "It's almost a crisis."

While many opponents recognize the county's affordable-housing need, they question whether RiverWood can deliver.

Polm's RiverWood fliers are covered with photos of teachers, police officers and firefighters, but many of those workers don't earn enough for even the development's lowest-priced condominium.

"I live in a $160,000 home, and I can barely afford my mortgage," said Michael Mayo, an Anne Arundel County firefighter who lives in Annapolis. But Mayo doesn't oppose RiverWood. If they build it, he says, he hopes to win some more part-time construction work to boost his $36,000 salary.

Tom Quattlebaum, chief executive of the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors, called RiverWood "not the best of all worlds," but said "it's the best that's available."

His organization has joined the Annapolis-Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce in supporting the project, which Polm land acquisition director Andrew Zois said will have deed restrictions to require that homes are owner-occupied.

To pass its plan tomorrow, Polm needs a council member to introduce an amendment to the small-area plan and four council members to support it.

The task of introducing the bill would fall to two-term Councilman Bill D. Burlison, who represents the area around Suburban. Late last week, the Odenton Democrat was still making his decision.

"I don't believe I have seen as bitterly contested an issue as this one has been and is going to be," Burlison said. "I haven't finally made up my mind."

That leaves four council members who say they're undecided, and one who will abstain because he co-owns a plane at Suburban. Council members Pamela G. Beidle and Barbara D. Samorajczyk are against it.

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