Columbia considers benefits of annexing North Laurel parcel

Staff predicts revenues would exceed demand for services in long run

June 01, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council last night began considering the benefits and drawbacks of annexing a Rouse Co. development to be built in North Laurel, creating a fourth neighborhood in Kings Contrivance with a new set of recreational amenities in the process.

If the annexation of the Key property is approved, the village would gain about 1,200 dwelling units and increase its population by about 3,500 residents, making it the second-largest village in Columbia after Long Reach.

The Howard Research and Development Corp., an affiliate of the Rouse Co., has asked the Columbia Association to include three public tennis courts, an outdoor pool, five parks, nine playgrounds, a ball field, play meadows, preservation areas and more than 12,000 feet of pathways on the property's 260 acres of open space .

The council must decide whether it makes sense to extend its boundaries and assume the risks that would pose - financial and otherwise. The developer has asked that the board decide by fall.

Rafia Siddiqui, Columbia Association's vice president for administrative services, provided revised financial projections last night showing that the Key property would contribute $36.7 million in residential and commercial assessment revenue to the association over the next 20 years.

At the same time, Siddiqui said, Columbia Association would spend about $3.7 million in capital funds over the next 10 years for recreational amenities. Those projections do not take into account the potential addition of a neighborhood center or athletic facility.

"Those things could require a lot more investment by CA," she said.

Siddiqui said a preliminary analysis - based on Rouse Co. data confirmed by Columbia Association wherever possible - shows the net annual operating losses would be $62,000 annually over the first four years.

Over 20 years, however, the total net operating income would be $26.8 million, according to Siddiqui, making the association's rate of return on the investment as high as 57 percent.

"To me, the big question is if - not how or when," said Barbara Russell, Oakland Mills' representative on the 10-member council. "I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done, and I think that we need to approach it from a number of angles. One would be reaching out into the community."

The Key property's 1,200 residences would include apartments, townhouses and single-family homes. It would also have about 2 million square feet of employment and retail space.

The property straddles Interstate 95 and is not contiguous with Columbia - a point of concern for some officials and residents.

Council Chairman Lanny Morrison sees it as a business decision. "We have to know exactly what we would be getting and what the purposes would be," Morrison said.

In the coming weeks, association staff plans to prepare a best-case scenario, a worst-case scenario and a "realistic" scenario for the council.

The worst-case scenario would use less optimistic assumptions about the pace of development and the value of the dwelling units to be built there.

Though crowding is potentially a problem, the schools serving the Key property would be Forest Ridge and Gorman Crossing elementary schools, Murray Hill Middle School and Hammond High School.

The closest pool would be three miles away at Huntington, the eighth-busiest of Columbia's 23 neighborhood pools. The Key property would not have a pool for two summers, according to current development plans.

Some critics of the proposed annexation think the initial financial projections are overly optimistic.

Barry Blyveis, secretary of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, said at a recent ABC meeting that the council should get outside help to decide the issue.

"You're asking the CA staff, `Do you want to grow?' " he said. "Of course they want to grow."

If Columbia decides not to annex the property, Rouse will set up a separate property owners association and fund the construction of recreational amenities itself.

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