Council cool to proposed annexation

Rouse Co. project stirs concern over costs to association

`High-risk venture'

Development would be part of Kings Contrivance


June 23, 2000|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

COLUMBIA -- Plans to annex a future Rouse Co. development in North Laurel met with skepticism from some residents and several Columbia Council members last night, who expressed financial and philosophical concerns.

Despite estimates that the deal would add $2.7 million to $22.8 million to the Columbia Association's coffers over 20 years, several people were worried that the association would wind up in the hole.

"This is a high-risk venture with scant benefit to offset the risk. There is no free lunch," said Norma Rose, a former Columbia Council chairwoman.

The Howard Research and Development Corp., an affiliate of the Rouse Co., has asked the association to annex the planned 665-acre Key development and provide it with Columbia's trademark recreational amenities.

In exchange for providing such things as pools, parks and pathways, Columbia would collect assessment revenue from about 2 million square feet of commercial space and about 1,200 townhouses, apartments and single-family homes.

Rafia Siddiqui, vice president for administrative services, presented the council with three estimates of the financial costs and benefits to making the Key property a fourth neighborhood in Kings Contrivance. The estimates, showing best-case, worst-case and so-called "realistic" cost and revenue projections, were based on Rouse Co. data that association staff confirmed when possible with third parties.

The presentation followed a budget report by association staff that showed several association facilities, including the Columbia Gym, horse center and Fairway Hills Golf Club, falling far short of revenue projections during the fiscal year that just ended. The association nevertheless ended the year with $1.4 million more than projected.

Arie Eisner, of the citizens watchdog group Alliance for a Better Columbia, cited some of the missed budget projections and said the Key property estimates could not be trusted either.

"We have been misled by both organizations before," he said, referring to the association and to the Rouse Co. "The time has come for CA to grow up and stop catering to the Rouse Co.'s wishes."

Council member Bob Conors said that even if the number-crunching is sound, the projections could sour considerably if the economy cools. A footnote in Siddiqui's presentation made the same point.

"If the economy slows down, and the development pace changes, then the financial outcome could be significantly different," the note said.

Conors said the issue essentially comes down to, "What are you willing to gamble?"

"You're going to commit a lot of funds for this city on what probably will come true but may not," he said.

Councilwoman Pearl Atkinson-Stewart said, "I recall Columbia itself was a gamble ... and now we have a successful community."

But Councilwoman Barbara Russell noted that Columbia isn't starting from scratch anymore. Its oldest neighborhoods were built 30 or more years ago, and perhaps Columbia needs to give those areas its attention instead of adding on, she said.

"There was no existing Columbia," she said. "There was nothing to fix in the beginning of Columbia."

Councilman Miles Coffman said it may not be an either-or proposition.

"I think we can do both, revitalize and do the Key project," he said.

Council members plan to hold public hearings on the matter in August.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.