The Harford County Council voted last night to impose a 90-day moratorium on the approval of preliminary plans for construction of senior housing.
The panel approved the action by a 5-2 vote. The move is designed to give the council members time to determine whether developers are using the senior housing zoning designation to circumvent a law limiting residential growth in crowded school districts.
Under changes in the county's Adequate Public Facilities laws approved by the council this year, preliminary approval for new housing development is banned in the district of any school exceeding 105 percent of its student capacity.
That law, however, does not apply to projects designated for the elderly. The county's senior housing law requires only that one person living in a home be 55 or older.
One of the sponsors of the emergency bill, Councilman Robert G. Cassilly, said last week there has been a flurry of senior housing development in recent months.
Cassilly questioned whether developers were doing this to serve the needs of the elderly or using the law as a loophole to get new houses on the market.
During last night's hearing, Councilman Lance C. Miller said he saw no need for the bill. He argued that the 17 applications for senior housing projects submitted since 2001 reflect growth of the county's senior population.
Tim Sullivan, one of about 20 people who testified at the hearing, supported Miller's position. The Bel Air resident, who said he is 57 and does not plan to have more children, said builders are filling a need for senior housing. "I think this bill is insane," he said.
Council President Robert C. Wagner said the intent of the bill is to allow a 90-day study and block loopholes in the law if necessary.
Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, the council's lone Democrat, said the bill would protect seniors' interests. He said he wants to make certain that when they move into a development for the elderly that their neighbors do not have children.
Wagner, Guthrie and Cassilly voted for the moratorium along with members Cecelia M. Stepp and Richard C. Slutzky. Miller and Councilwoman Veronica L. Chenowith voted in opposition.
There are concerns among council members sponsoring the bill that housing units designated for the elderly still house children, putting a strain on crowded public schools.
"You can no longer say that because someone is 55, that they don't have kids going to school," Deb Merlock, vice president of the Harford Council of PTAs, said Friday.