Monday, March 21, 2011

EC Density Debate

Tonight the County Council will hold a public hearing about the proposed Hilltop Housing redevelopment in Ellicott City.  Stacy Spann, the Director of the HoCo Department of Housing and Community Development would like to replace the aging and money losing Hilltop Housing and Ellicott Terrace apartments with an equal mix of market rate and subsidized housing that would be self sustaining. To do so he would increase the number of units in these two projects from 98 units to 278 units. The two phase project would also involve replacing the existing Roger Carter Recreation Center with a new expanded recreation facility.

Some nearby residents are not on board with this. According to this article by Larry Carson in The Sun, the president of the Chapelview Community Association, Alix Latona told an assembled group at a community meeting about the project that “We are all so scared.”

“Sherry Fackler-Berkowitz complained that the extra apartments would add to traffic woes, while others pointed to another apartment complex nearing completion on nearby Rogers Avenue and 150 townhouses planned across the street that will make things worse.”

It’s the old density debate all over again.

The concern over increased traffic is misplaced. Increased density near the historic district is vital for the economic health of Main Street. It is called Ellicott City afterall.

It also makes sense to develop housing projects that are self sustaining. Mixing market rate units with affordable units allows the project to stand on its own without being a continuing drain on county coffers.

It should be noted however, that this project will not be developed by the same developer as the Monarch Mills redevelopment project in Columbia. The developer that the housing department selected for the Hilltop project is Stavrou Associates based in Annapolis. Stavrou has developed a couple of housing projects in Prince Georges County during the Jack Johnson administration. In this article by Ovetta Wiggins in The Washington Post, the writer claims that “Stavrou is one of the biggest recipients of HOME funds in the county over the past eight years.”

The HOME funds are at the center of the pay for play corruption probe of the former PG county executive.

Steve Moore, a vice president of Stavrou, claims that the Post story was inaccurate in the portrayal of his firm. He insists that all of Stavrou’s dealings in Prince Georges County were aboveboard and that Stavrou Associates has not been implicated in the federal probe.

Though this would be their first project in HoCo, the company has also completed successful housing projects in Harford and Anne Arundel counties.
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