Rouse wants to absorb area

N. Laurel community would become a part of Kings Contrivance

November 05, 1999|By Erika Niedowski and Larry Carson | Erika Niedowski and Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Rouse Co. wants its proposed North Laurel community to become part of Kings Contrivance village in east Columbia.

The move, if agreed to by the Columbia Association and village officials, would mean that the 1,145 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes -- as well as the 1.2 million square feet of employment space and 100,000 square feet of retail space -- would be subject to the association lien, the community's equivalent of a property tax, and benefit from association programs and services.

Over the next 20 years, lien fees could be worth more than $30 million in revenue for the homeowners group.

The Rouse Co.'s original plan for the so-called Key property, which it has compared to a Columbia neighborhood, included creating a separate homeowners association -- a much smaller Columbia Association.

Under the new proposal, the property would be absorbed into Kings Contrivance, though its residents would have a Laurel address.

"It seemed like it made a lot of sense to do that rather than reinvent the wheel," said David E. Forester, vice president and senior development director for Howard Research and Development, a Rouse Co. affiliate. "We've always used the advantages of the Columbia Association in our marketing. We think it's a real plus to move into the area and have the advantages of the facilities and programs that CA offers."

"I think I'd like to see it happen," said Joe Merke of Town Center, chairman of the Columbia Council, the 10-member elected body that oversees the association. "I think it would be good for the community that goes into the Key property, and I think it would be good for us, too."

The council will discuss the proposal at its meeting Thursday; the Kings Contrivance Village Board will take it up Nov. 17.

The 517-acre parcel, which straddles Interstate 95 and is bounded by Route 216 to the south and Gorman Road to the north, is not contiguous with Kings Contrivance. The state owns the land in between, Forester said.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county director of planning and zoning, said the proposal would not affect how the land is used or its zoning. It would not need to be reviewed by county officials.

"Either way, it's OK with me," Rutter said.

The only practical change would be that homebuyers in the new mixed-use project would pay annual fees to the Columbia Association, and, in return, get maintenance of open space and discounts on recreational memberships -- as do residents of Dorsey Hall in Dorsey's Search, which is north of Route 108, outside the boundaries of Columbia.

County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat who lives in Kings Contrivance, said he has no strong feelings about the issue.

"Clearly, if that project goes forward, they're going to need a homeowners association for it," he said. "I think potentially it could be a good thing."

The idea for the Key property to fall under the Columbia Association's purview dates to the 1982 "transition agreement" between the Rouse Co. and the association. The accord officially severed ties between the two. Several years ago, Rouse and the association agreed to substitute another piece of land -- now Columbia Gateway -- making it, rather than the Key property, subject to the association's tax.

Rouse officials decided recently to reconsider its plans.

The move comes while community groups opposing the development await a Circuit Court ruling on the project. Residential development is not expected to begin until 2001, employment development, until 2002.

Anne Dodd, manager in Kings Contrivance, said the village board is anxious to take up the Rouse proposal.

"I think that there are a lot of issues to look at, and I think they will," said Dodd. "The village board has to look at it from the viewpoint of the community."

The main issue on that front, she said, is how the village could make the new residents of the Key property feel part of Columbia, "being that geographically distanced."

"I think [the association and village officials] are giving it some serious thought," said Forester. "But it's entirely up to them to make that decision."

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