Council approves 106-unit complex

The Baltimore Sun

A 106-unit apartment building for limited-income residents is slated for Ellicott City, thanks to a complicated Howard County Council compromise on a touchy zoning bill.

The Residences at Ellicott Gardens will be built on land zoned for office commercial on Route 108 near the Route 104 intersection. It is intended to meet the housing needs of single adults and couples, though some children could live there too, officials have said.

Two resolutions approving the 4-acre county Housing Commission project won unanimous approval at Monday night's council meeting, as did a heavily amended zoning change to allow the project.

Several other housing bills were approved, including one to give preference for units to moderate-income people, including county civil servants, those recently displaced from mobile home parks along U.S. 1 and for workers in private, nonprofit human services organizations.

The council also approved two resolutions for an 80-unit building for moderate-income seniors called Park View at Emerson, as part of the large General Growth Properties Inc. mixed-use development along Route 216 in North Laurel. The four-story building, slated for construction by Shelter Development beginning in March 2008, represents fulfillment of a pledge by the former Rouse Co. to include subsidized dwellings in Emerson, even though they were not required under county law.

The land for the $16.4 million Ellicott Gardens project was given to the Housing Commission by Maple Lawn, Maryland, developer Stuart J. Greenebaum. The deal allowed Greenebaum to move his allotment of moderate-income units away from mixed-use Maple Lawn, where houses, including townhouses, sell for $900,000 and more. Old Town Construction of Ellicott City will build the apartments.

The most contentious bill Monday night was the zoning change sponsored by three council Democrats to allow the Housing Commission to partner with private investors to get state tax credits to build subsidized housing on commercially zoned land - the circumstances of Ellicott Gardens.

The bill eventually passed unanimously after limiting amendments were added. The measure had raised objections from two council members, the League of Women Voters, the Howard County Citizens Association and a group of Ellicott City residents known as the Friends of Font Hill, who worried about the potential for large, subsidized apartment buildings on small commercial lots.

The two council members, Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, and Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, also objected to using scarce commercially zoned land for housing.

Watson and Fox lost an attempt to limit Housing Commission developments to office commercial zones like the land for Ellicott Gardens, but they won an amendment to remove two retail commercial zones totaling 175 acres from eligibility. Chairman Calvin Ball, and Jen Terrasa, both Democrats and bill sponsors, joined Watson and Fox on that vote.

West Columbia Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty, another bill sponsor, said removing those zones would eliminate opportunities for mixed-use projects. Ball also joined Fox and Watson in approving an amendment that would bar Housing Commission projects from the commercial portion of mixed-use projects, limiting them to the residential area. Sigaty and Terrasa opposed that limit.

The council agreed to compromise on another sore point - how to limit the number of acres of commercial land that can be used for subsidized housing. Watson and Fox pushed for a maximum of 4 acres a year, but Terrasa suggested 15 acres over three years.

The council eventually compromised on a maximum of 12 acres during any three-year period. The final vote on the bill was unanimous, though Sigaty said she was "saddened we removed important provisions."

Terrasa said, "I think we're all really committed to affordable housing. This is really a small step in that direction."

Watson said she was "glad to be able to say the council worked together."

Stacy L. Spann, the county housing director, also declared victory.

"We had a 5-0 vote. It shows that affordable housing is a priority of the council," he said.

John Lederer, a member of Friends of Font Hill, said, "It isn't exactly what we wanted," but he added that his group is happy that the retail commercial zones were removed from the bill and that the Ellicott Gardens project can proceed.

But some advocates for more affordable housing were not pleased.

"I'm sort of dismayed by this," said Andre J. De Verneil, a member of the Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing.

Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, noted that a county housing task force concluded one year ago that Howard needs up to 20,000 units of lower-cost housing. The amendments to the bill "chip away at opportunities of addressing the county's 20,000 affordable housing units," he said.

But William Ross, another housing advocate and a member of the Housing Commission, said he was satisfied.

"We're happy with it. You've got to compromise," he said.

New Apartments At A Glance

Construction is to begin in March on two apartment houses for moderate-income people -- The Residences at Ellicott Gardens in Ellicott City, and Park View at Emerson in North Laurel, which will be for those ages 62 and older. Maximum incomes range from $38,297 a year for one person to $49,239 for a family of three. Both are to be four-story buildings.


Route 108 at Falls Run Road

90 one-bedroom, 800-square-foot units will rent for $745 a month.

16 two-bedroom, 1,050-square-foot units will rent for $1,000.


Palace Hall Drive in Emerson, off Gorman Road

58 one-bedroom, 700-square-foot units will rent for $565 a month.

22 two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot units will rent for $675 a month.

Sources: Shelter Development and Old Town Construction.

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