Board finalizes auction plans for former school

Commissioners order staff to advertise Nov. sale

October 23, 2002|By Childs Walker and Mary Gail Hare | Childs Walker and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners finalized plans yesterday to auction the former Hampstead Elementary School in November despite continued objections from town leaders who wanted the building redeveloped on their terms.

Dismissing a letter from the town requesting another negotiating session, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier told county staffers they want the auction carried off as quickly as possible.

"This has been going on too long," said Dell, who added that he and Frazier had repeatedly told town leaders that a decision on the building's fate was overdue.

The commissioners told county staff members to advertise the sale immediately. They issued the directive at their regular Tuesday session, where they also voted to appoint a committee to decide whether developers should be required to provide water sources for firefighting.

They spent much of the meeting setting conditions for the bidding on the Hampstead school.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin said yesterday he would wait to see the auction advertised in print before meeting with his Town Council to decide on a possible response to the directive. Nevin said the town might consider legal action to bar the auction or might consider bidding for the school, regarded by town leaders as the centerpiece of Hampstead's downtown revitalization plans.

Legal action seems inevitable, said Town Manager Ken Decker.

The saga of the school is wrapped in frustrations over the deterioration of a long-neglected building and political bitterness between town leaders and departing Commissioners Dell and Frazier.

The town and commissioners have negotiated the fate of the 91-year-old school since the mid-1990s. Town officials thought they had found a solution last year when the commissioners tentatively agreed to sell the building to the town for $100,000. The town then would have given it to a team led by Baltimore redevelopment specialists Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse.

But when the development team failed to receive low-income-housing tax credits for a second time last month, Dell and Frazier said they were tired of waiting. The two voted this month to auction the school despite pleas from Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge to give the developers another chance.

The decision drew immediate criticism from Nevin, who said he believed the votes might have been motivated by revenge because he had written in the town newsletter that he hoped Dell and Frazier wouldn't be re-elected.

The commissioners set numerous criteria yesterday for potential bidders. Before qualifying for the Nov. 26 auction, bidders would have to prove they could finance a $5 million-or-greater project and post a $60,000 bond that would be used to repair the building's deteriorating roof. The winning bidder would have to preserve the building's faM-gade, leave playing fields behind the school intact until the town finds replacement fields and tailor development plans to Hampstead's Main Street revitalization efforts.

The Town Council could make life difficult for any winning bidder whose project doesn't meet its standards. The town probably would have to annex the property and provide water for any proposed development, and it could refuse to do so. The town also might consider using eminent domain laws to seize the building if the winning bidder allows it to sit and deteriorate or submits a plan that doesn't suit the council.

"I think it would be in the best interest of anyone acquiring the school to talk with the town ahead of time about plans," Nevin said.

In other board news yesterday, the commissioners said they would appoint a committee to review a 10-month-old proposal from Carroll County Fire Chiefs' Association that would force developers to provide permanent sources of water for firefighting.

Critics say Carroll has moved too slowly planning for fighting fire in rural areas.

"If our wheels moved this slow, we would not be able to function," Jeffrey R. Alexander, president of the chiefs association, said of the commissioners' action. "The simple thing behind all this is public safety."

Under the proposed regulations, developers would have to provide emergency water sources such as underground tanks or easily accessible ponds. They also would have to include sprinkler systems in new homes, a provision required in commercial developments.

"These are regulations that exist today on a national level," Alexander said. "We have just tailored them to Carroll County's needs."

Frazier said the committee reviewing the proposal should include the fire chiefs, county staff and "whoever else is appropriate to look at the commercial and residential plans."

Also yesterday, the commissioners accepted $40,000 from the state to create a response plan for natural or man-made disasters. Carroll is one of eight jurisdictions in the state to receive the money from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

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