Crowded schools halt development

September 17, 2005|By TARA REILLY


Construction of a nearly 800-unit development off Sharpsburg Pike has been idle for months because there's no room in area schools to handle enrollment increases, Washington County officials said Friday.

Planning Director Michael Thompson said the county has issued building permits for approximately 112 homes - the first two phases of the Westfields development - but has stopped the project's developers from building the remaining homes until the school issue is worked out.

The project's next phase calls for 184 units on 53 acres, according to a discussion at a Planning Commission meeting last year.


The developer, Drees Homes of Frederick, Md., plans to build a total of 773 housing units on the 443-acre Westfields site, south of Saint James Village.

Thompson said the county and developer are trying to work out a solution as to when construction can continue.

The developer has offered 12 to 15 acres for an elementary school to be built in Westfields, and Thompson said the land transfer is in the process of being completed.

But transferring the land doesn't necessarily mean home construction can resume immediately afterward because the school capacity issues likely wouldn't be alleviated until after the school is built.

"It's going to take a year or better to build that school," Thompson said.

He predicted that home construction would resume as the school was being built.

County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he has told many developers they shouldn't expect school capacity issues to be worked out quickly.

"If you're looking for a quick solution, you're just not going to find it," Kercheval said.

Westfields is in the Funkstown Primary, Emma K. Doub Elementary, E. Russell Hicks Middle and South Hagerstown High schools attendance areas.

All of those schools were at more than 100 percent capacity last school year, and enrollments were projected to climb this school year, according to a June 28 letter concerning another proposed development in the area.

The letter was to Thompson from Dennis Unger, the school system's engineering technician.

Schools' capacity

Funkstown was at 111 percent capacity last school year and was projected to be 119 percent full this year. Emma K. Doub had a capacity of 131 percent last school year and was expected to climb to 137 percent this year, according to the letter.

E. Russell Hicks was at 111 percent capacity last school year and was projected to be 112 percent full this year, while South Hagerstown High School was at 106 percent capacity last school year and was expected to increase to 114 percent capacity this year, the letter states.

"Based on the above, and future development-driven enrollment increases, a subdivision of any size in these districts will severely impact the schools ability to handle the increased enrollment," Unger wrote.

In addition to Westfields, several other developments are proposed in that area. They include a 322-unit housing development proposed for land known as the Arnett Farm off Sharpsburg Pike (Md. 65), north of Rench Road, and a 550-unit housing development on 218 acres known as the Artz farm on Rench Road, north of Sharpsburg Pike.

Kercheval said all of the proposed developments in that area probably will be held up because there's no room in the schools.

"At this time, I don't see any of the new developments moving forward ..." Kercheval said.

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