Town looks into property exchange

Cement company wants ball field land to build railroad spur

New Windsor

May 03, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Lehigh Portland Cement Co. wants to trade land it owns north of New Windsor for 12 acres south of town that contains the town's ball fields and one of its major wells. New Windsor is willing to make the trade, but wants about $1 million, too.

Lehigh needs the land to construct a railroad spur to a little-used quarry within a quarter mile of the property along Old New Windsor Pike and Meadow Lane.

New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. declined to set a specific price for the land, but compared the parcel to a similar property on Shepherd's Mill Road in Union Bridge that cost Carroll County $850,000. That 10-acre property, owned by the Lease brothers, will be used to improve the road and build a railroad spur to keep increased truck traffic brought on by the cement-maker's $268 million expansion off downtown streets in Union Bridge.

"If we line town property up with the Shepherd's Mill land purchased for rail access, economic development and road improvement, we should get the same $85,000 per acre," Gullo said.

Gullo, who is not seeking a third mayoral term, made the details of the negotiations public last night while presiding over his last council session.

"I am telling the council to hold fast and making this public so the new mayor gets something close to this deal," Gullo said. "We are not playing hard ball. We are just asking for fair value of the land. I don't want the new administration to lose ground on this." Sam Pierce, a retired salesman, is running unopposed for mayor in Tuesday's town election.

Pierce said he has not been privy to details of the land swap but that he would continue with negotiations. He would favor payment for the land, but he sees no urgency, he said.

"It could be 10 to 15 years before Lehigh is mining full time the quarry in New Windsor," Pierce said. "This is a long way down the road, although we should be talking about it and absolutely we should continue to negotiate to the town's advantage."

Negotiations broke down when the town asked for reimbursement for the value of the land, Gullo said.

"Lehigh executives have expressed shock at our request," said Gullo. "They have also said we put a completely unrealistic value on the ball field property."

David H. Roush, Lehigh's Union Bridge plant manager, is out of the country until Monday and unavailable for comment.

Lehigh, a multinational company with sales of more than $1.7 billion in the United States, expects to mine its New Windsor quarry and ship the stone to the Union Bridge plant, Pierce said. A rail line would provide the most expeditious method of transport, he added.

During several months of negotiations with the town, Lehigh has offered to swap the Meadow Lane land for a 12-acre parcel along Route 31, where the company would build two ball fields. Construction of those fields will cost about $200,000.

When the town raised concerns about train traffic near a well, Lehigh also agreed to help the town establish a replacement well, a project which could cost Lehigh up to $750,000.

It is reasonable for the town to demand a replacement well, Gullo said.

"This is the single most reliable spring the town has and the closest to town," he said. "It even produces during droughts. We don't want the liability that would come with trains going past it daily. Lehigh has agreed to replace it and cover our costs"

But, the deal cannot be completed until the company offers compensation for the land, Gullo said.

New Windsor must cope with a steady stream of Lehigh truck traffic every day and Pierce said he does not want to see that increase.

"We are already bombarded with trucks and we certainly want large quantities of stone to be shipped by rail," Pierce said.

New Windsor could use new ball fields. Its recreation programs, particularly its Little League, draw hundreds of players.

"We need twice the facility we have now," said Councilman Neal Roop. "I would like to get the fields out of the flood plain, too. Right now it doesn't take much rain to cancel a game."

About five years ago, Roop contacted Lehigh and Roush suggested a land swap. After the two looked at several possible sites, Roop said a 12-acre property along Route 31 seemed most suitable - although the location would mean children could no longer walk to games and practices.

Roop also favors asking for payment for the land.

"We have put something before them that we think is fair and we are waiting for their response," he said.

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