If the Carroll family decides to pursue development of an Erickson retirement community on its historic Doughoregan Manor estate in western Ellicott City, members of the public will have plenty of chances to ask questions and express their opinions.
County Planning Director Marsha McLaughlin said that the county's General Plan, the water and sewer master plan and the land's zoning all would have to be changed - each requiring public hearings - before a development plan would be submitted.
Under county law, that would mean separate reviews and public hearings by the planning board and County Council on both the General Plan and the water and sewer plan. The zoning board would hear any proposed zoning change, again requiring public hearings.
"I'm assuming there would be lots of public opportunity for discussion. The pre-submission meeting should be anticlimactic," if the plan moves forward, McLaughlin said. Howard County requires developers to present their plans at a public meeting before submitting them for county approval.
Camilla Carroll and her brother Philip D. Carroll announced late last week that they are considering a proposal from Erickson to develop about 150 acres of their three-century-old estate to raise enough money to preserve most of the land and keep their 280-year-old manor house in family hands far into the future.
Whether Erickson will be able to offer the family enough money to accomplish these goals is still being worked out. The deal will hinge on the financial details, said Daniel P. Rexford, an executive vice president of Erickson Retirement Communities and an Ellicott City resident.
"We're really in the early stages," Rexford said yesterday, adding that because Erickson serves middle-income people such as retired schoolteachers, "the economics need to work. We don't have that nailed down yet."
The Carrolls want to raise enough money to pay for renovations and to keep the remaining estate in family ownership. Current zoning would allow about 192 new homes on 4.25-acre lots.
McLaughlin said prime home lots can sell for up to $400,000 each, which could mean about $75 million for the Carrolls.
"This is a prime location, convenient to services, and yet it has a unique character due to the manor," McLaughlin said. Doughoregan is west of Centennial Lane, between Frederick Road on the north and Route 108 and Columbia on the south.
Rather than seeing new homes scattered over the entire estate, the Carrolls want to cluster development on the eastern edge, allowing permanent preservation of the estate's core.
Cluster development would require public approval for water and sewer service, and county officials are looking for something in return - such as more land for Kiwanis Wallis Park and some lower-income housing in any new community.
Nearly 900 acres of what was once a 10,000-acre plantation lost historic preservation designation in May, and if the Carrolls don't act, they fear that a death in the family could result in such high inheritance taxes that they'd lose control of the family's ancestral home.
The Carrolls sold development rights last year on 75 acres of the estate that developers will use in other locations, raising money to begin badly needed maintenance and repairs on the manor house. The entire estate is now about 2,000 acres.
Mel Tansill, an Erickson spokesman, said the company has responded to information requests about its retirement communities from more than 5,000 Howard County residents. He said about 300 families have moved out of Howard to live in one of the company's retirement complexes. The firm operates 20 complexes in 11 states, including three under construction in Kansas, Virginia and Ohio.
"More than 350 county residents have placed deposits on residences at our operating properties," he said.
Today, County Executive Ken Ulman, Councilwoman Courtney Watson, whose district includes Doughoregan, and McLaughlin were to tour Riderwood, an Erickson community in Silver Spring.
That seven-year-old complex has more than 2,600 residents and is fully occupied, according to the company Web site. Tansill said new developments normally start with several hundred apartments and grow.
Erickson is best known locally for the Charlestown complex in Catonsville and Oak Crest Village near Perry Hall.
"John Erickson and the whole organization is top of the line. They have a quality product, and he's a man of honor and integrity. It would be a great asset to Howard County," said state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Columbia Democrat whose district stretches into Catonsville, including Charlestown.
Ulman, too, said he's been impressed with Erickson communities through his work as a private elder law attorney, but said traffic is a major concern.
A spokesman for the Carrolls said the project offers attractive features for the public, compared with development of detached houses on large lots.
A senior community would not affect county schools, would generate minimal rush-hour traffic and would occupy less land, and the developer would pay for all infrastructure improvements. The complexes have their own security, road repair, snow removal and other services that the county otherwise would perform. In addition, Erickson's communities operate their own ambulance service.
Erickson residents pay an average $185,000 refundable deposit for a maintenance-free, one-bedroom apartment, plus an average $1,550 a month. A two-bedroom unit requires an average $300,000 refundable deposit and an average $1,925 a month.