Shed no tears for Halle in Odenton

October 01, 1992

Forget the bad economy. There's no excuse for the Halle Companies -- again -- on impact fee payments for schools and sewers in Anne Arundel County. For all its convolutions, this controversy boils down to simple breach of contract. Halle broke a written promise to pay the fees.

That's the way a circuit court judge saw it in 1990 when the developer first refused to fulfill its debt. Halle claimed -- still claims -- it was cheated by the Lighthizer administration. It says then-County Executive O. James Lighthizer made a back-room deal to expand the Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant so the company could build 4,700 homes, but never pushed the expansion through the County Council.

If Mr. Lighthizer struck such a deal, he was wrong. But so was Halle, which shouldn't have stepped into the back room to begin with. The company should have had enough sense to get the agreement in writing.

Now, less than a year after reaching an out-of-court settlement with the county, Halle has defaulted again, this time to the tune of $420,000. Due to the economy, Halle says it has sold half as many houses as expected and can't pay the fees.

You have to feel sorry for any builder who undertakes such a massive project only to have the economy turn sour.

But don't shed many tears; developers can look out for themselves, and Halle certainly has called its share of the shots. When the county wouldn't loosen development controls in the Odenton town center, Halle got even by refusing to pay for road upgrades or to donate land for a train station. A year ago, the company packed a meeting of the Odenton Improvement Association to gain control of it.

Halle talks about its financial troubles as if the county has some obligation to keep it afloat. It's true, Anne Arundel has a major stake in the developer's Seven Oaks community.

The project means jobs, and Seven Oaks is an essential part of the Odenton town center, to which the county is committed. Also, the county probably would have a hard time in this economic climate finding another developer to finish Seven Oaks if it demanded payment and Halle went broke.

For that reason and that reason alone it may be to the county's advantage to negotiate with Halle again.

It is under no obligation to do so. Anne Arundel owes this developer nothing.

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