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County OKs Westfields accord

Commissioner Wivell reads list of objections to agreement

Commissioner Wivell reads list of objections to agreement

February 15, 2006|By TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A 773-unit residential development off Sharpsburg Pike put on hold last year by Washington County will be allowed to move forward this year, after three County Commissioners approved an agreement they say will relieve crowded schools in the area.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell criticized the agreement with Westfields LLC. He said it let Westfields off the hook too easily and that he could not support it.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioners Doris J. Nipps and James F. Kercheval approved the agreement.

Commissioner John C. Munson abstained, saying he didn't know how he wanted to vote.

Several Westfields representatives were at the meeting and participated in the discussion.

The agreement allows a certain number of homes to be built each year through 2016. The developer has agreed to pay a portion of the county's building excise tax upfront to go toward an elementary school in the development.

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County Attorney Richard Douglas said after the meeting the amount Westfields will pay upfront has yet to be worked out. The remainder of the excise tax charged to Westfields will be paid over a number of years, he said.

The agreement also means Westfields will drop a $7.5 million lawsuit it filed against the county for stalling the project.

Wivell read a list of objections he had to the agreement, including that developers in other areas have offered to contribute large sums of money to build schools, but that the approved agreement does not require that of Westfields.

"The truth will speak for itself when we're borrowing money to pay for this project," Wivell said.

While a new school on the property addresses crowding at the elementary level, the agreement doesn't address school capacities at the middle or high school levels, Wivell said.

He also said the agreement "sets the bar so low" that it will jeopardize the county's ability to negotiate with other developers.

Nipps and Kercheval didn't see it that way.

Kercheval said the thrust behind the agreement was getting the school built to relieve crowded classrooms, particularly at Emma K. Doub Elementary School.

Nipps said the new school also will be a benefit to students at Funkstown Elementary School.

"It's our responsibility to do something about the situation," Nipps said.

Kercheval said delaying the project anymore would mean that students will have longer to sit in overcrowded classrooms.

The Westfields school is scheduled to open in September 2008.

Westfields is giving the Board of Education land on which to build the school.

The agreement allows Westfields to build 41 homes this year, none in 2007, 100 each in 2008 and 2009, and 60 homes each year from 2010 through 2016.

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