Key is a dead issue, Rouse Co. says

Official says firm will not attempt to push annexation

April 17, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

In a move to put speculation and a Columbia Council campaign issue to rest, the Rouse Co. has issued a statement saying that its so-called Key Property development will not become part of Columbia.

Rouse will not reintroduce the land annexation plan "to this Council or any future Columbia Council," Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of Rouse, stated in an April 11 letter to Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown."... [E]ven if a future Columbia Council requested the Key Property annexation, we would have to respectfully decline the request," Scavo wrote.

Rouse, which created the planned community of Columbia, has set up a new homeowners association to oversee recreational amenities and open space in the new development, Scavo said in an interview yesterday.

"For whatever reason, there are some people who are suggesting that that [annexation] still is a viable option," Scavo said. "I just wanted to make sure everybody is clear on it and there can be no misunderstanding."

In a deal first pitched in spring 1999, Rouse asked the association to annex a future development on 665 acres in North Laurel, straddling Interstate 95 between Route 216 and Gorman Road. The property will be marketed under the name Emerson, though Columbia Association officials refer to it by its original name, Key Property.

Rouse initially asked the association to provide the development with $4 million in recreational amenities, including a swimming pool, parks and walking paths. In return, the association would have collected assessment revenue from about 2 million square feet of commercial space and about 1,200 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes. Rouse later reduced the level of amenities and offered to provide the association with more than $2 million in interest-free financing.

Supporters said the deal would have brought millions in assessment revenue to the association.

But critics said annexation would cost the association money and distract officials from the needs of Columbia's aging villages. Some also objected because the land is not contiguous to the rest of Columbia.

The proposal died in a 5-5 Columbia Council vote in November.

Scavo said at the time that Rouse would not bring the matter before the council again. But some council members and residents opposed to the plan were not convinced that the deal was dead, parsing his words for wiggle room.

Adding to the speculation was the fact that four of the five council members who opposed annexation are giving up their seats after Saturday's elections. Three of the council's 10 members are not up for election, and all three supported annexation.

Convinced the plan would resurface after Saturday's elections, opponents pressed candidates to take a stance on the matter.

Scavo's letter stated that he wanted to reiterate the company's position because a "misunderstanding ... [of it] seems to linger."

The letter satisfied Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, the only Key Property opponent running for re-election.

"I do accept him at his word," she said. "I have no reason at this point to believe that he means anything other than what he's saying. It's a pretty straightforward statement. ... It doesn't leave any wiggle room. It just says flat-out, `We wouldn't even consider it if it was brought to us by a future council.'"

Russell and many other annexation foes had called matter the most important of the campaign. She said she still thinks there was a need to keep the matter before the public.

"I think it was necessary to keep this issue as an open issue as long as there were indications that people who were running for the council were pro-annexation," she said.

But Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance, who supported annexation, said the matter should have been put to rest long ago. Halpin's opponent in Saturday's elections, Steven Pine, has made an issue of Halpin's support for annexation.

"It's come up in every discussion," Halpin said, referring to candidate forums. "It's over. It's been over. It's not coming back. I don't know why we were going to dwell on it. There's so much more productive stuff that could be done with the time."

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