A county citizens group challenged the school board's choice of a 50-acre site between Trotter Road and Route 108 for the western high school at an administrative law hearing last week.
A final decision on the appeal by the Trotter Road Citizens Association rests with thestate Board of Education. The state board lacks legal authority to dictate a change of school location, but it could order the county board to look at alternative sites.
Administrative Law Judge Charles W. Fowler promised a quick decision after hearing arguments Wednesday on a motion to dismiss the casefiled by school board attorney Michael S. Molinaro.
Columbia Memorial Park owner Harvey Geller, who initially joined the appeal, said last week he plans to withdraw his objections.
Geller said he was assured by David Forester, senior development director of the Rouse Co., that concerns about vandalism, security and students disturbing graveside services as they cut through the cemetery would be addressed. The cemetery lies at the edge of the planned village of River Hill,Columbia's 10th village.
Forester could not be reached for comment.
The county school system will pay for landscaping between the school and cemetery, but not for a barrier, said Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations. He said he doesn't have a description or cost estimate for the landscaping.
The cemetery owner denied he was pressured to drop his opposition, as Trotter Road resident Aelred Geis had told Fowler.
The state school board can order the county board to look at alternative sites only if it finds that the Howard board acted arbitrarily, unreasonably or illegally. That process would delay construction of the school, which is scheduled to start in July and be completed by fall 1994.
The citizenscontend that the county school board acted arbitrarily by failing tolook at other sites, that the school should be built farther west, that the building will not fit on the existing property and that the high school is incompatible with the adjacent Clarksville Elementary School and cemetery.
School officials counter that a site in the River Hill village center was considered and that the site selected is centrally located to relieve crowding at Atholton, Glenelg and Centennial high schools. They are currently negotiating a price with HowardResearch and Development, the development arm of the Rouse Co., for the additional 7.5 acres needed to fit the school on the site.
Thejudge's options are recommending that the state board dismiss the citizens' appeal, in which case each side would be given a chance to argue before state board members, or recommending a hearing on the issues raised by the citizens, which would give each side a chance to present testimony.