Despite objections from some in the community, the Howard County Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a land transfer that will make it possible for an apartment building and resource center for the homeless to be built off of Route 1 in Jessup.
The development will include 35 efficiency apartments for Howard County's chronically homeless and an expanded space for the Day Resource Center -- an offshoot of the county's Grassroots Crisis Center -- which provides services such as warm meals, a food pantry, medical advice and counseling for people in need.
A group of residents from nearby Savage had protested the project, saying they preferred to have housing for the homeless spread throughout the county rather than concentrated in their community. They worry the apartments could heighten crime in the stretch of the Route 1 corridor near its intersection with Route 32. The new building will be constructed behind a Salvation Army thrift store on Guilford Road, just down the street from the intersection.
Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, a Democrat who represents Savage in District 3, addressed those concerns as she explained her decision to vote "yes" Monday night.
"Some have expressed concerns that there are other ways to do this, I guess better ways to do this, and that may be," Terrasa said, "but I believe that this is a critical piece in the plan to end homelessness.
"There will be opportunities to look at other ideas," she added.
Council chair Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democrat from west Columbia whose district includes the Grassroots homeless shelter next to Atholton High School, pointed out that Monday's vote was more of a technical addition to a project the council had already decided to support. Last May, councilmembers voted to approve an initial land transfer to the housing department on the county-owned site, but the department later discovered more land was necessary to make the project possible.
"Having made this decision one time before, I look at this vote as simply adding the appropriate amount of acreage to move forward on something we already decided a long time ago," Sigaty said.
The land transfer already has the support of County Executive Allan Kittleman, who told a group of Savage residents in January that he thought locating housing and services for the homeless in one place was an efficient solution and "the right thing to do," according to county press secretary Andy Barth.
The council also voted Monday night to approve a payment-in-lieu of taxes agreement for Riverwatch, a townhouse development in Elkridge, as well as a bill changing the zoning code to facilitate the creation of agricultural preservation easements in the eastern county. Councilman Greg Fox, a Republican from Fulton, voted against the Riverwatch bill because, he said, he hadn't seen enough information about its financial impact.