County commission delays land purchase

November 17, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

After almost two years of looking and negotiating, Carroll school board and county staff members thought they had found a suitable place to build a new Westminster high school and elementary school.

They may have to look again.

Tuesday, the lame-duck county commissioners agreed to let the new board of commissioners, which takes office Dec. 5, decide whether to buy the land near Route 140 and Cranberry Road.

"Let them earn their salary," said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy, who lost a bid for a second term. "Let that decision go where it belongs -- with the new board."

The new commissioners will be more involved with other decisions about the new schools, he said.

The new commissioners are Donald I. Dell, who was elected to a second term, W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates.

Mr. Brown said yesterday that he would be glad to have the opportunity to consider the purchase. He said he did not oppose the site, but wants to investigate the financing.

"I generally believe the need to acquire school sites is pressing," he said.

Mr. Yates and Mr. Dell could not be reached for comment. Neither could Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, who did not seek re-election.

Settlement papers on the $2.2 million sale were ready to be signed Tuesday when the commissioners said they wouldn't make a decision.

The commissioners had known the location of the property and terms of the sale for months. On Oct. 13, Mr. Dell and Mr. Lippy signed an option to buy 114.5 acres on Cranberry Road that are owned by Westminster Nurseries Inc. The company president is Harold E. Stoner.

At a meeting Tuesday, County Attorney Isaac Menasche succeeded in convincing attorneys for the sellers to extend the option on the sale by one month -- to Dec. 15 -- to allow the new commissioners to consider the proposed deal.

The county has spent about $50,000 in personnel and engineering expenses to study the property, Mr. Menasche said.

Vernon Smith, director of school support services at the Board of Education, said he was baffled by the commissioners' delay.

"I just can't understand why a decision was deferred," he said. "If the new board does not approve the purchase, we will have a difficult time identifying another acceptable site within the time lines."

The school board planned to build the two schools in fiscal 1997, which begins July 1, 1996, and open them in September 1998, he said. Enrollment has increased to the level where the schools will be needed that year, he said.

The county Planning Commission and the commissioners have not yet agreed on that timetable to build the schools. The Planning Commission is studying capital budget requests.

Mr. Lippy said he learned of concerns about the proposed site this week that he had not previously considered.

"I was prepared to make a decision [Tuesday] until these last-minute things came up. I don't have any cut-off date for the flow of information," he said.

Mr. Lippy said he was concerned that the county might be buying too much land, even though it's possible the county's Industrial Development Authority might be able to sell a piece of the property that is located right on Cranberry Road and zoned for business.

The rest of the property is zoned for conservation and residential uses.

Mr. Smith said the school board wants 50 acres for the high school, which will have 1,300 students, and 20 acres for the elementary school, which will enroll 600 students.

Mr. Lippy said he also has heard from some residents who worry that the schools would increase traffic in the area and further clog Route 140.

Mr. Smith said officials considered the impact of the school on Route 140 traffic and decided it would not be a problem.

"Vehicular traffic on 140 is already there," he said.

Officials like the Cranberry Road site because it is a central location and accessible to major roads, he said.

If the county buys the land, officials plan to extend Center Street past Cranberry Road, curve it around to cross Gorsuch Road and end it at Route 140 near Weis Markets, Mr. Menasche said.

Mr. Lippy and Mr. Smith said $2.2 million was a good price.

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