Plans for the county's third Town Center are on the verge of crumbling, with the major developer threatening to pull out of the project and a deal to build an interchange at Route 32 on hold.
The fate of the 218-acre Town Center parcel, located near the intersection of routes 32 and 175 across from the Seven-0aks housing project, rests on a County Council vote Monday and a state agreement which has yet to be signed.
The council is scheduled to vote on a growth management bill which would place restrictions on developers in Town Center, including reducing density levels and limiting the height of buildings to eight stories.
Steven Fleischman and other developers don't like the bill because they feel it is too restrictive and leaves too much up in the air on what can be done with the land.
"The County Council is making moves of a political nature rather than moves that are the best for the county," said Fleischman, vice president of the Halle Cos., which owns 90 acres of Town Center land.
Halle had been negotiating for several months with the state for an intersection on Route 32 that would provide an additional access to Town Center.
The state had been hesitant to accept the deal, under which Halle would donate land for a MARC commuter train station and build access roads. In exchange the state would pay $12.5 million for a parcel of land it needs to upgrade Route 32 and give permission to build the interchange.
Halle officials say the land for the station and the interchange would cost the company about $14 million.
Fleischman said last week that a verbal agreement had been worked out, with the help of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and was to be signed Friday.
But Fleischman said Friday afternoon that no paper work had been signed and that the state has begun its upgrade of Route 32 - which consists of a bridge over what will be Town Center Avenue - without leaving enough room for an interchange.
Joel Lee, executive assistant to Schaefer, said the deal has not fallen through, but the contractor has to start work on the project. Had Halle signed the agreement before Friday, the state's contractor would have been ordered not to start and Halle would have paid the delay costs.
But Halle won't sign the agreement until after the council meeting Monday. Lee said that if he holds up the contractor and then the council votes against Halle, the state would be stuck with paying the delay costs.
Without the interchange Fleischman says Halle won't donate land for the train station. He says the whole concept of Town Center won't work without the interchange, because traffic will be backed up on Route 175.
If the state does allow the interchange to be built, it will have to tear up what has already been done and widen the lanes on the bride to accommodate the exits, Fleischman said.
If the state doesn't allow Halle to build the interchange or the council approves the growth bill, Fleischman said he will build a high-density residential project instead of a Town Center.
County Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville, says the train station is vital to Town Center and is pushing for the county to delay the growth controls from taking affect in Town Center for six months.
Jason Jacobson, vice president of Osprey Investment Co., which is planning to develop 30 acres of Town Center land with high-rise office buildings, a hotel and a shopping center, said he does not plan to pull out of the project.
But, he said, it the growth bill passes or the interchange is not built, plans would have to change.
"Maybe only a shopping mall could be built," he said.