Landfill could bring perks

School, pool, park offered in exchange for rubble site

Project still needs state permits

Greater Crofton Council OKs developers' package


September 17, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

In what community leaders are calling a gesture of good will, the developers of a proposed rubble landfill in Odenton have offered to build a public high school in Gambrills and a community swimming pool and 500-acre park near the site.

But the offer gets the developers no closer to formal approval of the landfill, which has faced opposition from local activists and county leaders for 15 years and still requires a state environmental permit.

The package being offered by Halle Cos. of Silver Spring was approved in a vote Tuesday by the Greater Crofton Council, a community group that helped negotiate the deal.

Council President Torrey Jacobsen said he expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with Halle next week.

Jacobsen said he believed developer Warren E. Halle offered the package to show he could be a good neighbor after years of contention about the proposed landfill. "Now, he can stand tall and say, `Look at what I'm doing,'" Jacobsen said.

But many aspects of the deal seem far from sure things.

Community groups have no say over whether the county would operate a school or recreational facility built by Halle. The County Council and Board of Education would have to approve such arrangements. And County Executive Janet S. Owens has long opposed a landfill on the 481-acre site.

"I would certainly describe this as a creative approach," said Owens spokeswoman Jody Couser. "However, the county executive has cautioned that residents should be wary of something that sounds too good to be true."

Halle and his company's vice president, Stephen Fleischman, who worked on the deal, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

`All kinds of questions'

Gregory V. Nourse, the schools' assistant superintendent for business and management services, said the developer has not sought any approvals from the school system or the Board of Education.

"There's all kinds of questions for the county to ask," he said.

Nourse said many private developers offer land for schools, but few have built the facilities, which can cost $45 million to $60 million.

Debate over the proposed landfill has raged since the late 1980s. Anne Arundel officials lost a court battle to block the project, but Halle has not received final approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment to proceed.

"We have been waiting several months for additional information to make the application complete," said MDE spokesman Jeff Welsh.

This year, county officials revealed that Halle was working to partner with the Delaware Nation of Anadarko, Okla., on the landfill project. Owens criticized that plan as an attempt to skirt county and state land-use laws by putting the project under laws governing Indian reservations.

Casino concerns

Some opponents of the project worried that the Delaware Nation eventually would try to build a casino on the site in the rural Patuxent Forks section of Odenton. Jacobsen said that as part of the deal, Halle would stop recruiting the Delaware Nation as a partner.

Jacobsen said he and Halle officials began discussing the package a few months ago. Jacobsen said Halle has offered to build a public high school in Gambrills and lease it back to the county, build a public pool and recreation center in Odenton, pay the community $3 for every ton of rubble processed at the landfill and turn the site into a park after using it for 15 years.

Jacobsen said he thinks the landfill will be built, so the community should garner what benefits it can from Halle. He said he and his neighbors want a new high school and have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade the county to pay for one.

"We took a bad thing and tried to find a silver lining with it," said Jacobsen. "I'm proud of it. I think it's a very good deal."

Sun staff writer Liz Kay contributed to this article.

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