Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Aunt Hattie’s Place gets board’s OK

Planning Board approves group home for eight boys in Sandy Spring

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The Sandy Spring woman known as ‘‘Aunt Hattie” to many foster children has won approval from the county Planning Board to open a group home for boys at her home, much to the chagrin of some of her neighbors.

The planners gave Hattie Washington — who also runs two similar homes in Baltimore — unanimous approval for eight boys to live at Aunt Hattie’s Place on Thursday. She plans to build an addition to her home on Norwood Road.

‘‘I feel elated and I feel relieved, and I feel that we have a lot of people to thank for making this dream a reality,” Washington said after the vote.

The approved plan calls for an eight bedroom, 4,700-square-foot addition to Washington’s nearly 7,500-square-foot home. Commissioners approved the project on the condition that 50 percent of the concrete surface area will be made of pervious paving material.

‘‘I don’t see the intensity of the use on this size lot to be dramatic or significant in any way,” Commissioner Gene Lynch said. ‘‘If anything, that’s a heck of a great setting.”

The board’s vote comes nearly a year after Washington withdrew her original request for a special exception permit to build an addition to her home to accommodate 12 boys.

The board approved the request last October, despite staff’s recommendation of denial, but because of the opposition from neighbors, Washington withdrew the application.

She refiled a new plan in October, reducing the number of boys to eight. The new plan for fewer boys does not require a special exception permit. Because the property lies within the Sandy Spring⁄Ashton Rural Village Overlay Zone, it was subject to site plan review.

Some neighbors on Norwood Road and in the adjacent Bancroft community are unhappy with the size of the planned group home.

They noted that while the number of boys was reduced, the size of the building did not get substantially smaller. According to the planning staff report, the size of the proposed addition was reduced by 600 square feet from what was proposed a year ago.

‘‘I find it to be arbitrary and capricious that the exact same project is compatible,” said Eric Bailey, a Bancroft resident, in his testimony to the Planning Board.

Bailey and his wife, Benita, told the board they were concerned that Washington could apply in the future for another special exception permit to increase the number of boys at the home.

Washington’s attorney, Emily J. Vaias, said that there are no plans to request such an increase.

Basile Whitaker, president of the Bancroft Home Owner’s Association, said they were disappointed with the board’s decision.

‘‘I hoped they would’ve looked at all the facts and not weigh in on the emotional side of the issue,” Whitaker said in an interview. ‘‘I think what we presented had a lot of merit. At the end of the day ... we’re the ones who have to live with what it’ll be like five to 10 years from now.”

Washington had many supporters in the audience at Thursday’s board meeting, including some of her foster children, who were seated in the front row.

In all, six people spoke in support of the project on Thursday and five against. In letters to the Planning Board, 22 people expressed support, and eight opposed it.

Carolyn Snowden, a longtime Sandy Spring resident and community activist, expressed support on behalf of the Sandy Spring Civic Association both in a letter and in testimony to the board.

‘‘I strongly feel that the new proposed home to be built in Sandy Spring will not only be compatible with the Master Plan and compatible to the rural historic preservation mission of Sandy Spring, but also will be compatible to the character and needs of our community,” Snowden wrote in her letter.

Douglas Farquhar, another longtime Sandy Spring resident, said he is looking forward to volunteering his time at the home once it is up and running. He said he thinks Aunt Hattie’s Place is compatible with the neighboring houses.

‘‘It’s not much different than other houses in the neighborhood,” he said.

Vaias said construction is anticipated to start in six to nine months.

‘‘I feel the boys will be loved and embraced in the community and I feel that the few who oppose it will soon grow to love and embrace the foster kids,” Washington said.