THE COUNTY COUNCIL IN HARFORD COUNTY, Md., voted to stop approving plans for seniors housing for 90 days last December to study if home builders are constructing seniors housing to bypass a law that limits residential growth in overcrowded school districts.

The measure, which passed the council by a 5-2 vote, is in response to the sudden increase in seniors housing projects over the past few years, especially since the council passed an Adequate Public Facilities (APF) law last summer. The new law bans preliminary approval of housing projects in local school districts exceeding 105 percent of student capacity.

Pete Gutwald, the county's chief of comprehensive planning, says the county has moved forward on 13 senior projects since 2002, seven of which were approved in 2004, with an additional four more submitted for approval before the December moratorium. Gutwald says prior to 2002, no seniors projects were recorded in the county.

The HBA of Maryland opposes the 90-day moratorium, saying that 20 percent of Harford County's population is over 62 and that the county hasn't fully addressed the housing needs of seniors.

“If the builders think they can sell a product and there's a need in the marketplace, what's the problem?” asks Susan Stroud Parker, a spokesperson for the home builders, who says builders have a right to build on land that's already zoned residential.

Parker says the vast majority of the seniors projects are so-called “age-restricted” projects, which require at least one occupant to be 55 years old. Parker says children under 19 can only live in an age-restricted residence for 30 days per calendar year. Part of the concern is that some of the seniors projects house children, which puts added stress on county schools.

Dion Guthrie, a county council member who supports the moratorium, says that after the 90-day period the council will either extend the moratorium or remove the elderly housing exemption from the APF law.