South County man submits report to halt college plan

Sojourner-Douglass site planned near community

April 02, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

A board member for the community association closest to Sojourner-Douglass College's proposed Edgewater campus is recommending that his neighborhood ask Anne Arundel County zoning officials and the county school board to halt the project.

A 26-page report written by board member Michel S. Pawlowski of South River Colony Conservancy includes a proposed letter to the county zoning office demanding that the college be denied permits to build at Routes 2 and 214. It also includes a form to petition the school board for a public hearing.

The five-member conservancy board will vote on the proposal at a meeting to be scheduled for later this month, board members said.

"We expect your swift and immediate action to reject" applications to build on that land, the letter to county zoning officials states. Pawlowski writes that residents are opposed not to the college but to its planned location at the site.

In recent weeks, community leaders have voiced the suspicion that race might be a motive behind opposition to the school locating in Edgewater.

The predominantly black college is named for abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. The Edgewater community is overwhelmingly white and has a history of racial strife, including a racially charged death threat three years ago to former schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who is black.

The Baltimore-based college is looking to move its Anne Arundel campus from a leased site on Old Solomons Island Road near Annapolis to a 6-acre site at the South County intersection. Developer Tom Schubert, who owns the land, said he would like to begin building a 16,000-square-foot facility in June. He has applied for permits from the county and said he intends to go forward with his plans.

To make his argument against the college, Pawlowski - who was elected in February to the board of the South River Colony, a planned golf-course community of about 850 homes - is relying on a covenant signed in 1988 between the developer at the time and community groups. The covenant states that the land can be used only for educational facilities "in conjunction with the Anne Arundel County Board of Education."

Pawlowski's report states that "this means formal agreement, joint funding [or] co-partners in development."

The proposed letter to the county asks for the county to reject permits to build largely because of the covenant.

Schubert and an attorney for the school board have a different interpretation of the covenant.

"If another educational entity does have programs that it is working on cooperatively with the school system, that's `in conjunction with' the Board of Education," attorney P. Tyson Bennett said.

In a Feb. 21 letter to Sojourner-Douglass, associate Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson wrote that there was potential for joint efforts in several areas, including general meeting space and training of school employees.

County zoning officials appear unlikely to take a position on the proper interpretation of the covenant. Pam Jordan, spokeswoman for the zoning department, has said the county does not enforce others' covenants.

If the zoning office is going to ignore the covenant, Pawlowski asked, "Then why even have permitting and zoning?"

Conservancy board Vice President Herb Lieberman declined to comment on Pawlowski's plan yesterday. President Greg Abbott said he is neutral toward the college's plan and declined to comment on Pawlowski's report.

Pawlowski said he began compiling the report when he came to believe that the neighborhood group's board was not keeping residents informed about the school.

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