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With the economy still sluggish, one major Bel Air developer is trying to change his age-targeted condominium development to attract buyers of all ages, causing an uproar from the project’s existing residents.

Mike Jones, developer of the 17-building Legacy at Gateway near Harford Mall and the Ma & Pa Trail, wants to drop the age-55-and-older tag on the community that targets the over-55 segment of the market.

At the Jan. 25 meeting of Bel Air’s Board of Appeals, Jones also requested a variance from the parking requirement for the development from 2.5 spaces per unit to 1.68 spaces per unit.

After several dozen current residents of Legacy at Gateway turned out to speak against that suggestion, the board voted against Jones’ parking request.

Not through

Despite that turndown, it’s unlikely Jones is through.

At a planning commission meeting Thursday, he is still expected to request the change from age-restricted housing to multi-family housing.

Bob Syphard, Bel Air’s senior planner, said Jones is close to completing the first five buildings of Legacy at Gateway, and wants to make the roughly 12 remaining buildings multi-family.

Syphard said a multi-family development is, essentially, anything other than a single-family home, including condominiums and apartments. It would not be restricted to a specific age group, unlike the over-55 housing.

Legacy at Gateway is planned for 278 units, Syphard said.

In early January, the board of town commissioners voted down a suggestion of lowering the parking requirements from 2.5 spaces per unit to two spaces per unit for all multi-family housing, agreeing only to lower them for age-55-and-older housing.

Jones spoke out at that meeting, urging the board to lower all parking requirements because he said it creates excess parking.

More green space?

Cutting the parking requirement for Legacy would not necessarily allow Jones to add more buildings because other regulations, such as density requirements, would still be in play, Syphard said.

“There may be a little more green space and a little less macadam,” he said about the possible effect of decreased parking.

Nevertheless, Syphard said he expects Jones to continue to press the parking issue.

“I know he [Jones] is probably going to approach the town board and ask them to treat common-entrance multi-family units as a distinct type of development that should have its own parking requirement,” the planner said last week.

The arrangement of less parking and multi-family housing would be more economically feasible for the developer, Syphard said.

“He’s not selling units as quickly as he had hoped,” he said.

Residents unhappy

Richard Price II, who lives at Legacy at Gateway, said he and about 50 of his neighbors were out in force at the appeals meeting.

Price said Jones wants to change the vision for the development they already bought into, and would mark a different direction from the 56 units already built.

“Those [units] were sold and advertised as 55-and-older, an age-restricted adult community,” he said. “The main issue is, he wants to change the residency of a plan that’s already been approved by the town of Bel Air.”

Jones’ parking request, Price said, “will add considerably more cars to the parking area.”

New residents “are going to go to our area, which has an abundance of parking spaces for us,” he said. “We have satisfactory parking and there may be half a dozen parking spaces [free], but we don’t want them occupied by people in the other areas, especially when we have company.”

Price said the community did feel better after the appeals board’s ruling last week.

Before that, “we kind of felt like the fix is in, and this was just going through the motions,” he said.

Mayor opposed

Bel Air Mayor Dave Carey said he disagrees both with Jones’ proposal to change the type of housing and the idea of lowering parking requirements.

“I think both of them are very unfortunate,” Carey said last week. “The idea of changing it from over-55 to unrestricted [housing] is not fair to the people who bought there, who relied on his word that it was going to be an age-restricted community.”

But town commissioner Terry Hanley supported the original proposal to lower all parking requirements, saying it would be more consistent with the county and other jurisdictions.

Hanley has consistently sided with Jones on the reduced parking issue.

A ‘win-win’

Hanley also said last week he thinks Jones’ proposal would ultimately benefit Bel Air.

“I kind of see it as a win-win. That Gateway project is probably the best project going on in the county,” Hanley said, explaining multi-family housing would bring in more residents and probably more young families.

“I think it would just open up more opportunities for affordable housing in the town of Bel Air,” he said. “There is still a segment of people who would love to live in Bel Air.”

Hanley said “time is money,” and he hopes the town moves forward with approving Jones’ suggestions.

“It kind of gets back to, the free market is going to dictate what a viable project is,” he said.

May not matter?

Syphard, however, said Bel Air’s history with multi-family housing shows those developments may not primarily draw young families.

Those moving into English Country Manor, for example, a development very similar to what a multi-family Legacy at Gateway could look like, have been mostly older.

“They tend to be more empty-nesters,” Syphard said.

Attempts to reach Jones for comment on this story were unsuccessful.

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