Within a decade, the number of Prince George's County residents age 65 or older is expected to double, but the county does not have enough housing options to meet their varied needs, a county task force recently found.
With that in mind, the County Council approved a measure yesterday that allows developers to construct town houses, single-family homes and other housing for seniors in areas currently designated only for high-rise apartments.
But council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) said the county needs to take even more steps to address the lack of housing variety for older residents.
"It's critical," Shapiro said, "because senior citizens have special needs. Our land use and zoning do not address them."
According to a report by the task force, made up of private citizens and government officials, land-use regulations are confusing and discourage development of housing for older residents. It urged the council to amend zoning laws to make it easier to increase the supply throughout the county.
In response, the council appears to be moving toward allowing all types of housing for seniors--assisted living, nursing homes, single-family houses and town houses--in areas that otherwise permit only one type for the population as a whole.
The legislation passed yesterday enables the Collington Episcopal Life Center in Mitchellville to construct 100 upscale cottages as part of its high-rise senior living complex. The center's developer and residents of neighboring communities had lobbied for the change in law.
Another measure, scheduled for a vote in September after the council returns from its August recess, would allow the Glendale Baptist Church to build apartments adjacent to its property. The land is currently zoned for town houses.
As it did yesterday, the council generally has approved senior housing developments on a case-by-case basis by granting special exceptions to build in restricted areas.
Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) said he supports the Collington project but criticized the process in which zoning laws are changed to respond to specific proposals.
"At some point in time, we're going to have to sit down and take stock of what we've done," he said.
The task force, established by the council in 1997, cited the lack of a more comprehensive approach to land use as one of the reasons for the housing shortage.
"Every developer that comes in the county and tries to do something has to start over," said Colette P. Youngblood, the group's chairman. "The county has never laid out guidelines."
Youngblood said she was encouraged by yesterday's decision but is frustrated that the council hasn't done more.
"We don't want to get behind," she said. "If we don't do something now, then in 10 years, seniors are going to leave the county, or there will be long waiting lists" for housing.
Dario Agnolutto, a land-use lawyer who represents the Collington project, said Prince George's County is not alone in its failure to address the issue of senior housing in a more comprehensive manner. He noted that not even Arizona or Florida, which have some of the largest senior populations in the country, have produced zoning law models that other jurisdictions can reproduce.
Agnolutto said the problems in providing senior housing are particularly acute in Prince George's because the development review process overall is "cumbersome for any type of development."
"It is probably more cumbersome for senior housing because we've never really assessed how seniors fit into the picture," he said.