Two months ago, county officials had nothing but nice things to say about the three major developments being built in Odenton.
Developers and county planners had signed agreements to cover the cost of a new school and a sewage treatment system for the 30,000 people expected to move into Anne Arundel's mini-Columbia.
But it didn't take long for the mutual-admiration society to fall apart.
Monday night, the Halle Co., which is building a 4,700-home project called Seven Oaks, lost a key battle with the County Council over a growth-control bill in Odenton.
Despite frantic efforts by Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, to keep the bill from taking effect for six months, the council approved it.
As a result, the developer said yesterday, the proposed Town Center -- a 218-acre parcel at the intersection of Routes 175 and 32 -- may never be built.
Meanwhile, a legal battle is brewing between Halle and the county over the developer's share of the cost of a new school and other amenities in Seven Oaks. (See related story) The growth-control law reduces the level of construction allowed in Town Center, requires developers to set aside 25 percent of their lots as green space and limits to eight stories the height of buildings.
The bill was applauded by the county executive's office, which said it will protect Odenton residents from runaway and haphazard development. But Halle officials contend the community "got screwed" by its officials.
The rift has left Halle's major ally, Boschert, out in the cold, criticized by fellow politicians and committee members who say he sold them out.
Boschert voted in favor of the growth-control bill Monday night, but only after withdrawing his proposal for a six-month delay and repeatedly defending his actions.
"I am sticking to my guns," said an unusually tense Boschert. "I have taken a lot of heat, but I know I am right in what I have done. The fabric of this community has been shredded, and I have to do what I can to put it back together.
"I have fought the good fight, and I have lost. . . . What we have before us now is not the best, but it's better than nothing."
Boschert said he withdrew his bill after county attorneys told him at 3:30 Monday afternoon that it contained legal problems. Jamie Baer, senior assistant county attorney, said the measure didn't define what type of development would be banned.
Boschert sought the delay to give Halle and the state time to strike a deal that would have led to construction of a MARC train station at Town Center. Halle had offered to donate six acres for the train station and build three ramps onto Route 32. In exchange, the state would buy 32 acres along Route 32 for $12.5 million.
However, the state said the land was worth $1.3 million.
A verbal agreement was worked out after the governor's office intervened, but Halle would not sign until the council's vote on the growth control bill. The developer contends it should be exempt from certain restrictions in the bill in exchange for the land donation.
With the bill in place, Town Center plans are "totally up in the air," Stephen Fleischman, vice president of Halle, said yesterday. He said he does not know what will happen next.
"There won't be an interchange. There won't be a train station," he said. "We will not put the dollars in. The county will lose millions of dollars in taxes and will lose a train station."
Jeffrey Johnson, president of the West County Chamber of Commerce, said he expects to see more apartments and other high-density residential projects in Town Center. It makes no sense for developers to build commercial projects and corporate centers if the employees have to commute, he said.
Fleischman blamed County Executive O. James Lighthizer for the stalled Odenton plans, saying Lighthizer pushed the bill through, leaving no time for the study of its impact.
"It was pure Lighthizer," Fleischman said. "He was trying to push it down everybody's throat. Ten years from now, the critics will look back and will say to Lighthizer: 'You really screwed us.' Right now, they don't really know what they have done."
Dave Lewis, president of Osprey Development Inc., which is developing 30 acres of Town Center land just south of Halle's property, also opposed the bill, but said there was little that could be done to prevent its passage.
"The County Executive had tight strings on all the council members and they were going to push it through," he said. "It is a very difficult position to put the landowner. It's like taking a starving man and taking his food away from him and then saying, 'Give us what we want and we'll give you something to eat.' " Lewis said that despite growth restrictions, he could implement his plans for office buildings and a mall, but his layout would be altered. He also said his plans would fail if Halle switches from commercial to residential development, which it has threatened to do.
However, Lighthizer's assistant, Jeff Stone, played down developers' threats and said the train station is not in jeopardy. "I don't think we lost," he said. "We gained a whole hell of a lot. There is nothing that Halle can take away.
"Ask the community if they feel they got screwed," Stone said. "Don't ask me. I'm an agent to the screwing if that's the case."
Stone said the county can condemn the land for the train station if Halle refuses to donate it.