Balto. Co. deal stuns community leaders Owings Mills activists wary of parkland plan

September 13, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

Community leaders in Owings Mills said yesterday that they were stunned by the county's plans to buy 241 acres for a community park, raising new concerns about the $5.3 million project.

"This is totally coming out of left field for me," said Gloria Crowder, a member of the Lyons Manor Community Association's board of directors.

"We don 't trust the county," added association president Larry Phair. "I would like to see the plans and sit down and talk with someone and get something in writing."

County Council members were angry about being suddenly confronted Tuesday with a do-or-die proposal to buy the land, which has been approved for a golf course community. Some members were wary of spending money for expensive parkland; one called the $21,750-an-acre price "highway robbery."

Yesterday, the developers who control the property said they would delay their Oct. 1 deadline to give council members more time to scrutinize the deal.

Henry LeBrun and Chris Pippen said they are willing to wait, given the confusion and questions that popped up at a council meeting Tuesday. If the county doesn't buy the land, they plan to build 382 houses and a golf course on the property, at Lyons Mill and Deer Park roads.

"We'll work with them and be flexible," said Pippen, a former Rouse Co. official.

But some community leaders, including residents of Lyons Manor, a development next to the proposed park, were shocked to hear that the county wants to buy the land after several years of hard bargaining over their objections to parts of the planned community.

Phair, who learned of the change in plans through The Sun, said adding ball fields and eliminating planned homes could benefit the area, where schools are crowded and recreational facilities few. But he said the unusual turn of events makes him unwilling to endorse anything until he has seen more details.

Meanwhile, Ruppersberger administration officials are working to salvage what they see as a great deal for the county.

"We made a mistake," Michael H. Davis, spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, said. County officials, he said, should have made stronger efforts to inform council members that plans to buy badly needed parkland in Owings Mills had changed since January.

Davis said the county got $1.35 million from the state during the General Assembly session to help pay for a planned $5.3 million purchase of a 95-acre park site east of the LeBrun-Pippen land on Lyons Mills Road.

LeBrun, 60, a Towson developer, said he read about that proposal and saw a way out of a 9-year-old project that had failed to attract new investors. He and Pippen offered the county 241 acres for the same price as the 95-acre parcel -- representing a per-acre price of $21,750 compared with $55,000, he said.

"I'm burned out on this thing," LeBrun said, noting that in 1987, when the partners first bought purchase options from nine elderly landowners, economic conditions for development were much different.

"We did it in the '80s, when everything was rolling. Prices haven't gone up," he said. "In the building business today, builders are working on very low margins."

LeBrun said he and Pippen sold their options in 1988 to a builder who filed for bankruptcy a year later. When the land reverted to the original owners, they came back to LeBrun and Pippen, who started the development process again.

If the county buys the 241 acres, it will pay the same price the developers agreed to pay in 1988, county land acquisition chief Shirley M. Murphy said. The landowners will get only $4.1 million, however, with most of the rest to be used to reimburse the developers for their costs over nine years.

After several months of negotiations and appraisals, LeBrun and Pippen signed a contract with the county on Aug. 15. Murphy's office decided that the land is worth as much as $5.7 million, so it recommended that the county agree to the $5.3 million asking price.

Davis said he brought Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, the Republican who represents the Owings Mills district, and area legislators in on the deal in June, and all agreed the money would be well spent.

County officials say they can get $2 million to help develop ball fields by selling 161 acres to the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, an independent agency, to build a golf course.

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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