Carroll to auction old Hampstead Elementary

Abrupt decision upsets plans in Hampstead

October 02, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County commissioners voted yesterday to put the old Hampstead Elementary School up for auction after a development deal for the property stalled last month for lack of needed state tax credits.

The project would have transformed the old school into a senior housing center, a change seen by the town's officials as the key to Main Street revitalization efforts. But Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier said yesterday they were tired of waiting for financing for the deal and wanted to sell the building as soon as possible.

"I think it's time to get on with it," Dell said.

The commissioners' decision disappointed Hampstead leaders and the development team they had selected to revamp the decaying property, largely vacant for more than a decade.

"I think it's pretty premature to do anything but stay with the development team," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin. "It doesn't seem right to go and do this in such a hurried fashion. They've waited so long to do anything with the building. Why are they in such a hurry now?"

Town officials thought they finally had found a use for the school after years of haggling with the county over its fate and said they did not welcome the uncertainty created by an open auction.

The developers said yesterday they remain interested in the project and probably will submit a bid in the auction for the property.

"We're firmly committed to sticking with this for the long term," said Jim Upchurch of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland, a member of the development team selected by Hampstead. "We're convinced that there will be a grand opening some day."

Under the proposed project, Baltimore developer Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse would join Cadoux Development of Westminster and Interfaith Housing to create about 90 apartments for senior citizens with incomes of no more than $28,000.

The developers requested millions of dollars in low-income housing tax credits for the redevelopment, but state housing officials denied the request for a second time last month.

Of 25 applicants statewide, seven received the credits, which totaled about $9 million.

The developers have scheduled a meeting with Department of Housing and Community Development officials to ask why their request for tax credits was denied. Upchurch said it's not unusual for developers to submit three or four requests before receiving the credits.

The commissioners had agreed to sell the school and its 5-acre site on Route 30 to the town if the tax credits were approved. The town then would have sold the building to the developers.

But yesterday's decision makes the fate of the property an open question again, as it has been for most of the past 15 years.

Dell and Frazier voted to auction the building over the objections of Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who said the board should at least meet with Hampstead leaders before making such a drastic decision.

Dell and Frazier said they would seek input from Hampstead leaders when creating conditions for the auction, which will include a requirement that the winning bidder maintain the building's familiar facade.

The town has pursued ownership of the building - maintained and used as a storage facility by the school board - since the mid-1990s.

Upchurch said he remains certain that the Interfaith project is the best use for the school. "We'll stick with this and make it happen," he said. "It's something we'll all be able to be proud of."

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