Residents fight zoning

The Baltimore Sun

Residents frustrated about traffic snarls along a scenic bypass into Annapolis are gearing up for a fight to protect their rural road from what they believe will be the first step to rampant development.

General's Highway, a two-lane road that leads from Crownsville into Annapolis, was named to commemorate George Washington's 1783 trip to the city to resign his commission as head of the Continental Army.

Over the years, the former Colonial post road has become another clogged artery to the state capital. Residents living on the wooded, one-acre properties along General's Highway deal with bottlenecks caused by commuters who bypass heavier traffic on Interstate 97.

Last year, the Anne Arundel County Council designated General's Highway as a scenic and historic road, one of 154 roads across the county to limit development.

Homeowner associations have turned their anger toward a proposed bill before the County Council that would affect the zoning of their residential district.

Considered a housekeeping measure by county officials, the bill would allow a three-story assisted-living facility on the southern end of General's Highway by reducing a 10-acre minimum requirement for such development in residential areas to 5 acres. Residents say that the move would open the door to commercial developers and that they will fight it.

They plan to attend tomorrow night's council meeting in support of a measure that would prevent the assisted-living development on a scenic and historic road.

"This is the line in the sand," said Don Yeskey, president of the General's Highway Council of Civic Associations.

Shelter Development of Baltimore is planning a 160-bed assisted-living facility on about six acres. The Brightview Assisted Living Facility, which would be across from Rolling Knolls Elementary School, would have parking for 105 cars.

An amendment to the zoning bill, proposed by Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. and passed about three weeks ago, would allow assisted-living facilities on five acres, as long as they are located on heavily traveled roads.

County Councilman Josh Cohen responded by proposing a change in the language that would prohibit the facilities on roads that are scenic or historic. If approved, the change would preclude development on General's Highway.

"[Brightview] really is not meant to go here," he said.

If there is a need for more assisted living facilities in the county, then the county needs to make more land available for it, Cohen said.

The change, however, would add a quirk to existing policy, said Linda Schuett, an attorney with Linowes and Blocher of Annapolis, the firm representing Shelter Development. Schuett is the former county attorney.

The zoning code prohibits most commercial development along scenic and historic rural roads because of the physical limits, Schuett said. Commercial development - including landfills and schools - already is allowed on scenic and historic, but not rural, roads. Prohibiting assisted-living facilities would be "off base," Schuett wrote in a letter to the county council on Wednesday.

The zoning code already allows nursing homes to be built on a minimum of five acres in residential areas, said Andrew Teeters, development director of Shelter Development.

He said the proposed site is near other commercial properties, including a veterinary hospital, a school and day care centers.

The difference, Yeskey said, is that the businesses are small mom-and-pop operations that have been in the community for years. None of those buildings is three stories or taller, he said.

Teeters said the vote tomorrow would affect plans for Brightview, but the company is looking at several other sites. He said there is a need for more assisted-living facilities in the area. He noted that there are more than 20,000 people older than 75 in the county but fewer than 1,500 assisted-living beds.

Mike Banscher, assisted housing program director for the county department of aging and disabilities, said that there were only seven assisted-living facilities when he started in 1989. He counts more than 90 now.

Banscher said that there is a demand for affordable senior housing in the county but that the Brightview facility would not meet that need.

Rooms there would cost between $3,000 and $5,000 a month, Teeters said.

Homeowner groups said the Brightview facility would need water and sewer, and once approved, more developers would be attracted to the area.

"Once this group comes on in, it will be the end of General's Highway as we know it," said Susan Zablotny, who lives in Carriage Hill, about a half-mile north of the proposed site.

Chamberlin family members are worried that Brightview would spoil the view from their backyard. If Brightview is built, the woods would disappear.

"Our view from our windows would be looking at a four-story building and dumpsters," said Rebecca Chamberlin.

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