Talks on plan for farm collapse

Proposal for Iager site leaves 2 sides at odds

June 13, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

A last-ditch effort to negotiate an agreement in the development of a proposed mixed-use community in Howard County has collapsed, with the developer and residents unable to agree on how to move forward.

John Breitenberg, an attorney representing several community groups in opposition to Stewart G. Greenebaum's plan to develop the 507-acre Iager farm in Fulton, said negotiations broke down after the developer reneged on concessions he made to the community in previous talks.

"We felt that the developer wasn't negotiating in good faith," Breitenberg said. "We thought we had reached an understanding in previous negotiating sessions, and when we attempted to clarify them, they suddenly changed. Everything became conditional."

Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing Greenebaum, refused to comment on the negotiations or the proposed mixed-use project, and Greenebaum was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment.

Breitenberg said he initiated talks with Greenebaum in the hope that the community and the developer could agree on the specific terms of the proposal before it was to go before the Howard County Zoning Board on June 23. The board is made up of the five County Council members and would issue the final decision.

"I was hoping that if we could reach an agreement, we wouldn't have to spend time and money on opposing each other," Breitenberg said. "But, in retrospect, the negotiations were a waste of time."

Last year, the county Planning Board recommended approval of Greenebaum's plan to the Zoning Board. Soon thereafter, intensive talks between the community and the developer failed. Residents have since been protesting the proposal.

After the hearing, the Zoning Board will decide whether to approve or deny the plan. The panel could OK the proposal with the stipulation that the developer construct the project more gradually than he has planned.

Neighbors say Greenebaum's plan to convert a turkey farm into a community of single-family houses, townhouses and condominiums could overburden existing roads, especially because two other projects -- Cherrytree Park in Scaggsville and a Rouse Co. development in North Laurel -- are to be built three miles away. Together, the three projects would add more than 2,500 houses to southeastern Howard over 10 years.

"I believe in sustainable growth," said Peter G. Oswald, vice president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association, "but three mixed-used projects just doesn't make much sense."

Harry Brodie, president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association, said he thought that the community and the developer were close to agreeing on the project's schedule before the negotiations broke down Tuesday.

Fulton residents have asked Greenebaum to phase-in the project slowly, but the developer has insisted that it unfold in two stages. The first stage would include 534 homes and 176,000 square feet of office space, with construction beginning next year. The second stage would not begin until improvements to the Route 216 and U.S. 29 interchange were completed in 2004.

With the Zoning Board hearing to be held in less than two weeks, Brodie said he and Breitenberg asked Greenebaum for a delay, because they wanted more time to negotiate and to allow the community to mount an aggressive plan against the project in case the talks failed.

Brodie said Greenebaum rejected the offer. "After that happened, we decided that we needed all the time that was left to decide on how best to oppose their plan," Brodie said. "We're going to spend our time focusing on that now."

Several community members have written letters to County Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a Democrat and the chairwoman of the Zoning Board, asking her to delay the hearing because many area residents, as well as Breitenberg, plan to attend a county General Plan Task Force meeting on the same night the Zoning Board hearing is to be held.

Lorsung has said she will not postpone the hearing.

Greenebaum was scheduled to appear at a community meeting Thursday to meet with the residents and discuss his plans, but Breitenberg withdrew the invitation after the talks failed.

Oswald said he did not believe an agreement could be reached with the developer through negotiations. He said attempts have proved futile. "We've got to prepare to fight these guys," he said. "I've never trusted negotiating with them, because they have a tendency to string us along."

He said he believes board members will be sympathetic to the community's concerns.

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