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Town OKs Senior Housing, Not Single Homes

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

A tentative, indecisive board of commissioners finally determined Thursday night that 30 more town houses would do more harm than good for the town.

That conclusion resulted in the denial of a request by RJD Development Corp. to rezone about 10 acres so multi-family dwellings, not single-family homes and some commercial space, can be built as. part of the Brookfield subdivision. The board's vote was 3-1 with president Patrick Boyle the lone dissenter.

Following the vote, Mr. Demmit said he didn't know if he would or could try to have the land rezoned again. He declined to say what he thought of the board's decision, saying the question was stupid.

The denial came several hours after the approval of the first additional housing in Emmitsburg in more than a year. The commissioners unanimously approved Bollinger Properties LLC's rezoning request so the company can build 48 senior housing units.

In the evening's final public hearing, RJD Development tried to sway the board to approve its request despite a unanimous denial recommendation from the town's planning and zoning commission. The desired changes would have yielded about six developable acres.

Krista McGowan, the developer's attorney, argued the land zoned for commercial use really wasn't suitable for that purpose because it isn't visible from West Main Street. She claimed a traffic study showed that if homes were built on the land, they would generate fewer peak-hour vehicle trips than if it was developed commercially.

She said the townhouses would fulfill a need for affordable housing, and provide a buffer between the dense houses and businesses along West Main and Brookfield's single-family homes.

All four citizens who spoke at the hearing opposed the plan. They questioned the student enrollment and traffic estimates and said businesses were needed in that part of town.

Mr. Boyle backed the request, questioning whether a business would survive there and saying the town needed more affordable housing. Commissioner Art Elder, who campaigned on a no-growth platform in the spring, said he wasn't for townhouses.

Motions by Mr. Elder to deny the request and Mr. Boyle to approve it both failed for lack of a second. Commissioner Clifford Sweeney withdrew a motion to table the request until infrastructure problems were solved when Town Manager David Haller said it was tantamount to denial because of the time needed to complete water and sewer projects.

Mr. Elder again moved to deny the rezoning, and he got a second from Commissioner Joyce Rosensteel. Mr. Sweeney eventually did to form a majority.

While the board rejected RJD Development's plans, it embraced Bollinger Properties' proposal. The rezoning increased the density for almost nine acres, enabling. the owners to build four 12-unit buildings restricted to residents age 55 and older.

Josh Bollinger, speaking for the family partnership, said a lack of senior housing in Emmitsburg forces some people to leave the town when they can no longer maintain their homes. He said the project enables the town to "have lifelong citizens," and estimated that the units would sell for $140,000 to $160,000.

The board seemed convinced that restricting the development to seniors would place no burden on area schools and resulted in less traffic than other types of housing.

Bruce Dean, the attorney representing Bollinger Properties, said the town's proposed managed growth plan likely won't impact construction because it will be one to two years before work can begin. But another board decision could affect the project.

Bollinger Properties' annexation request to allow construction of a 50-home, upscale subdivision on an adjoining 20-acre tract will be heard in early 2004, and the fiscal feasibility of building the senior complex could be tied to that project. Mr. Dean said it was premature to know whether the project is financially viable by itself.

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