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Town P&Z Commission Recommends Senior Housing, Turns Down Townhouses

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post - (8/27/2003)

The town’s planning and zoning commission opened its arms to a senior housing complex Monday night and declared a potential townhouse development unwelcome.

At its meeting in the conference room of the Sleep Inn, the planning panel voted to recommend conditional approval to a rezoning request that allows Bollinger Properties LLC to build 48 senior housing units in the town. However, it then voted to recommend the denial of a rezoning bid that would have allowed the developers of Brookfield subdivision to build multi-family dwellings on about 9.9 acres.

Those unanimous rezoning recommendations will be passed on to the town’s board of commissioners when and if their final approval is sought. The earliest the commissioners could face the requests is October.

At the town’s request, Josh Bollinger of Bollinger Properties agreed to postpone a decision on his request to have 20.3 acres of his partnership’s property annexed. Mayor Jim Hoover said afterward that the town wants to get a legal opinion related to the matter before making a decision. The request to rezone 10.8 acres in the Brookfield subdivision caused the most confusion and drew the most opposition.

Part of the confusion was over the zoning of two parcels totaling 2.8 acres. Town records and zoning maps show different classification of business zoning for the tracts, and one allows a broader array of uses than the other. The other discrepancy was in estimates of the number of units that could be built at the site. Because of the presence of a stormwater management pond on the lot, Jim Gugel, planner for Frederick County, estimated that about 25 townhouses would be the maximum yield.

But Krista McGowan, speaking for RJD Development Corp., said the company hoped it could build as many as 52 units on the site. Because engineering work hadn’t been done, a more precise number wasn’t available.

Ms. McGowan claimed that the high-density housing would be a "nice buffer" between the low-density housing in other parts of the Brookfield development and the commercial district along Emmitsburg’s Main Street.

Opponents, however, saw little "nice" about the townhouses. They questioned estimates of the number of students who would live there and doubted the veracity of statistics provided by Frederick County Public Schools. They claim Emmitsburg Elementary is overcrowded even though the school system’s data said its 17 percent under capacity.

They also asked whether extra water the town is counting on from a new well is coming from a new source or drawing from a resource that’s already tapped.

Bill O’Neil Jr. said the town should stop building for now so quality of life could be ensured for existing residents.

"We are building and building and building," he said. "We’ve had development. We’ve done our share."

Diane Walbrecker attacked the staff report conclusion that the area around the Brookfield tract had changed enough to allow the rezoning. She said the area had changed only because of other rezonings and that the cycle could continue indefinitely.

"Pretty soon all our neighborhoods are going to look like this," she said. "It’s time to stop."

Don Briggs, one of the planning commission members, said the tracts represent the last undeveloped commercial lots on the rapidly developing west side of town. He said he thought commercial property is needed there. Citing uncertainty over how many units can be developed and the need to retain commercial property on the west side of town, the commission voted against recommending the rezoning.

Richard Demmit, president of RJD Development, wouldn’t answer questions about the outcome immediately after the meeting and didn’t return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.

Before the Brookfield decision was made, the rezoning of Bollinger Properties’ 8.9 acres from low-density to high-density residential drew mixed response. Opponents cited traffic and sewer-capacity concerns, while supporters trumpeted the fact that the development shouldn’t lead to increased school enrollments.

The approval recommendation came with conditions attached. Among them are the stipulations that the development is limited to people age 55 and over and that at least an emergency access road is to be built from North Avenue to the complex.

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