Golf project uncertain County financing seen as unlikely

April 21, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

The chairman of the Columbia Council plans to recommend that the council reject joining a venture to build and operate a public golf course with the county and a development partnership.

Meanwhile, the county executive has said in a letter that he doubts Howard County could join in financing course construction because the county has so many other capital projects competing for money.

Howard-based developer J. Thomas Scrivener, one of the partners in the proposal, said yesterday that it was unlikely the project would include a public golf course if either the county or Columbia decides not to participate in the venture.

"If any of the other parties decides not to proceed, then I don't see how we can include a public course. We may have to look at maybe doing all houses or a private course of some kind. Or maybe it's just not the right time for this type of project," Mr. Scrivener said.

The developer said a "very critical" element of the project is county agreement to sell bonds for the project. The developers had proposed that they donate the golf course to the county and that the county sell bonds to raise money to build the facility.

John Hansen, the chairman of the Columbia Council, says his main concern with the golf course proposal, which would be part of a housing development, is uncertainty about whether Columbia would be guaranteed eventual ownership of the course. "There are so many things that are iffy with the project that I don't think it's wise to go any further with it," he said.

Mr. Hansen said he will make his recommendation to the council tomorrow night when it is scheduled to decide whether to extend review of the proposal for another 55 days. On March 1, the council imposed a 45-day limit within which to review the proposal. The council gave itself the option of extending review for another 55 days if a majority thought the project worthy of further review.

Mr. Scrivener said that no Columbia council member has contacted him or his partner for information about the proposal.

In February, the council was approached by Mr. Scrivener and J. P. Bolduc, president and chief executive officer of W.R. Grace & Co., to consider joining in a venture to build and operate a tournament-class golf course just outside Columbia's borders near Harper's Choice.

The course would also contain between 120 and 135 homes, selling for $300,000 to $450,000, the developers said.

The developers said they would seek to have the 335-acre property, between Route 108 and Homewood Road, included in Columbia's boundaries and would donate the course -- an estimated 180 acres -- to the county.

Mr. Hansen said he made his decision to recommend the council turn down the offer after receiving a letter from County Executive Charles I. Ecker that raised questions about course financing, approval and future ownership.

Mr. Ecker's letter was in response to questions that Mr. Hansen had asked the county about the proposal.

In the March 29 letter, Mr. Ecker said that it would be unlikely he would support conveying ownership of the course to Columbia in the future and that he could not guarantee the county would finance course construction.

In his letter, the county executive noted that the county is "not in a position to issue bonds for additional golf courses at this time. ,, It has critical unmet bonding needs including, but not limited to, schools, trash disposal, road improvements, etc."

Mr. Ecker also said in the letter he would not support charging Columbians and non-Columbians different rates to play on the course. Columbia has a policy of charging nonresidents higher rates to join and use its recreational facilities.

Mr. Hansen had asked Mr. Ecker if the county would deed the property over to the Columbia Association at the end of the lease term for $1.

The executive noted that such a decision would ultimately rest with the County Council, but he saw such a conveyance as unlikely. Turning the property over to Columbia, he noted, would require the county finding the property was no longer needed for the public and waiving competitive bidding for the course.

"The rate issue and the question of financing worry me, but the main thing in my mind to be concerned about is that it appears unlikely that we would ever own it," Mr. Hansen said. "The whole point of our being involved as the operator would be to eventually own the course."

Mr. Scrivener said that it appears from Mr. Ecker's response that he did not understand fully the developers' proposal for construction financing.

Mr. Scrivener said that under the proposal, tax-free development bonds for the golf course would be sold through the county and that the Columbia Association would be required for paying off the bonds. Money for that, the developers argued, would be raised through greens fees and other charges.

Under the arrangement, Mr. Scrivener said, the county would have to guarantee that Columbia would eventually become the course owner.

"Everyone seems to agree this county needs more public golf courses. I think we were making a fairly creative offer that would not result in the county being responsible for paying off the bonds and Columbia ending up with a public golf course virtually equity free," Mr. Scrivener said.

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