Board to weigh land annexation

Key parcel in N. Laurel would add revenue for association

Residents resist proposal

May 18, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A 517-acre parcel being developed by the Rouse Co. in North Laurel could become part of Columbia, creating a fourth neighborhood in Kings Contrivance and a new stream of revenue for the Columbia Association.

The Columbia Council will probably decide this summer whether to annex the so-called Key property, which, along with choosing a successor to former CA President Deborah O. McCarty, is one of the most important issues facing the board.

The proposed annexation has riled some residents who think that CA should focus on what it has rather than on a property that isn't contiguous to Columbia.

"The Rouse Co. has an obligation to provide for the amenities for that North Laurel property," said Alex Hekimian, a former council member who is helping reactivate the residents watchdog group Alliance for a Better Columbia.

"We see it as them passing off their obligation to CA. We think that's wrong. We think it'll put a severe financial burden on CA for many years in the future."

Absorbing the property would mean that the 1,145 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes -- as well as the more than 1 million square feet of employment and retail space -- would be subject to the CA lien and benefit from association programs and services.

It would also mean that the homeowners group would assume the cost of providing the recreational amenities -- such as pools, playgrounds and pathways -- that have come to symbolize Columbia.

CA collects more than $20 million in residential and commercial assessments each year, by way of an unofficial property "tax." But because there is little new development to come, CA is facing for the first time a flattening of revenue -- and the impact that will have on its long-term financial health.

According to a preliminary report presented to the council in November, the Key property would bring the association an estimated $33 million in assessment revenue over 20 years. At the same time, it would cost CA about $3.7 million in capital expenditures over 10 years, said Rafia Siddiqui, CA's vice president for administrative services.

Association staff are in the process of preparing another presentation for the 10-member board with more detailed financial projections.

"To me, it's just a straight business decision," said Lanny Morrison, the council chairman.

Hekimian thinks the projections are overly optimistic.

"They're going to demand their own major recreational facility," he said of possible residents of the Rouse development.

"They're going to demand their own community center because it's too distant from Kings Contrivance. They're going to demand a lot of other amenities simply because it is so remote."

The property straddles Interstate 95 and is bounded by Route 216 and Gorman Road.

Some officials, including the council representative for Kings Contrivance, Kirk Halpin, think annexing the development would benefit CA. Columbia has "annexed" property before, including Dorsey Hall in the village of Dorsey's Search.

Barb Seely, village board chairwoman, supports making the development part of Kings Contrivance as long as it doesn't contain a separate shopping center anchored by a grocery store.

Residents of the new development need to visit the village center to feel like they're part of the village, she said.

A new identity

Last week, the Rouse Co. submitted to the county a new name for the property, Emerson, after the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The first name, Gorman's Promise, was withdrawn after company officials learned that Sen. Arthur P. Gorman had tried to disenfranchise blacks at the turn of the century. Another neighborhood in Kings Contrivance, Dickinson, was named for Emily Dickinson, a contemporary of Emerson's.

If Columbia decides not to annex the property, the Rouse Co. will set up a separate property owners association -- which was the original plan -- and fund the construction of amenities such as tennis courts and a swimming pool.

But David E. Forester, senior development director and vice president at Howard Research and Development, a Rouse affiliate, said the annexation would provide mutual benefits to the developer and CA.

"As the rest of Columbia reaches build-out, this would be continued new growth, so there'd be new revenue -- assessment revenue -- for them," Forester said of the association.

"From our standpoint, we've been very successful in selling new residential and new employment [properties] based on the fact that along with `Columbia' comes a set of facilities and services that the association provides."

`A good sales tool'

Columbia "has been a good sales tool for us," Forester said.

The new council, which took office May 1, has yet to put the issue on its agenda.

Said Forester: "We would think that the decision should be made in the next few months. We can't wait another year, we can't wait another nine months to resolve this."

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