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HCC purchases 116 acres

May 25, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Hagerstown Community College purchased more than 100 acres of wooded land along Robinwood Drive last month, sparking concern among neighbors who fear the move could lead to intrusive development.

The college paid about $1.4 million for the property, according to court records.

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The purchase, which was recorded April 29, was for slightly more than 116 acres that border the college to the north and east. The land runs from the west side of Robinwood Drive to the edge of several streets off Jefferson Boulevard.

"Right now, there are no specific plans," said Patti Churchey, a spokeswoman for the college. "The main reason was to have a buffer. We wanted to protect the perimeters of the college."

But some people who live near the wooded property said they are concerned that the college might develop the land and detract from their quality of life.

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"I think they're up to something and not coming clean with us," said Kurt Redenbo, who lives on Harp Road just north of the property. "That whole Robinwood corridor is getting out of control."

The property was a source of concern several months ago when the nonprofit Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, also known as CHIEF, considered buying it for a technology park and an apartment complex.

Merle S. Elliott, the foundation's president, said CHIEF dropped the idea after determining that the required road improvements would make the project too expensive.

Elliott, who is also on the college's board of trustees, said buying the property allows HCC to control its use and prevents a private developer from constructing buildings that would conflict with the school's educational mission.

Private development also could have hemmed in the college, hampering any expansion should it be needed, Elliott said.

"That would have encroached on future development and green space around the college," he said.

Elliott said HCC has no plans to expand.

"For the moment, it's a matter of the property being available," he said. "We felt it was extremely important to protect the college."

But several neighbors remain wary.

Redenbo and about 50 residents sent a letter to Washington County Planning Director Robert Arch in March expressing concerns about the original CHIEF proposal.

Now that CHIEF has dropped out and the college has purchased the land, many of those concerns remain, Redenbo said.

He pointed to recent development under way or planned in the area and said traffic has become more congested.

William Drager, who lives on Clay Road, questioned whether the college would pay $1.4 million for a buffer.

"To me, that's baloney. You don't go out and spend all that money without having a purpose for it," he said.

Redenbo questioned how the college could afford to buy land when it asks for donations for other projects.

"They're always crying the blues about having no money to finish the amphitheater or do other things," he said.

Churchey said the amphitheater is a separate project financed by the college's alumni association.

The land deal was financed by surplus revenue, the county's capital improvement fund and money pledged from the school's fiscal year 2000 budget, she said.

Churchey said heavy development of the area that detracts from the school's rural-campus feel would not benefit HCC any more than it would nearby residents.

"I think we have the same concerns," she said.

Elliott said any future development would advance the college's educational mission and would be conducted in the open.

"The college is now, and always has been, a good neighbor," he said.

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