Zoning change sought

The Baltimore Sun

Requests for a series of changes in Howard County zoning laws that would allow a retirement community to be built on a 188-acre portion of historic Doughoregan Manor were submitted to county officials yesterday.

If approved, the changes would allow dense development of the eastern edge of the nearly 300-year-old estate, which is owned and inhabited by descendants of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The property is in a prime home-building area between Route 108 and Frederick Road in western Ellicott City, but is virtually invisible to most residents.

Erickson Retirement Communities announced plans last year to buy 150 acres of an 892-acre remnant of the former Colonial-era farm to build 1,500 units of senior housing. The firm, which has 23 similar complexes nationwide, has options on an additional 38 acres on which 500 more units could be built. The complete project would cost an estimated $300 million. Another 36 acres would be donated by the Carrolls to Howard County for expansion of neighboring Kiwanis-Wallas Park.

County officials embraced the plan because it would help preserve the historic site, add to the small park and is preferable to development of large homes. Senior housing takes less land and adds no children to county schools.

"This is a product that we need in Howard County as our population continues to age," said County Executive Ken Ulman.

The deal would provide the Carrolls with money to protect and preserve the estate, including their 280-year-old mansion, far into the future. It is the only former home of a Declaration of Independence signatory still in family hands.

In a statement e-mailed by a spokesman, Camilla Carroll, who lives on the estate with her family, said: "Our family would lose Doughoregan Manor should my brother or I pass away unexpectedly, since estate taxes would take half the value of the entire estate. In addition, many of the historic buildings are in disrepair - some barely standing upright - and need millions of dollars worth of restoration work."

To move forward with the plan, Erickson needs the county to approve changes to zoning regulations, plus a General Plan amendment that would allow public water and sewer services on the farmland.

No specific plans for the project would be submitted, said Erickson spokesman Mel Tansill, until those approvals were granted. Still, Erickson has held several public sessions to display preliminary conceptual ideas to area residents and prospective residents.

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