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Commissioners approve revised Westfields agreement

March 01, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Westfields Development LLC would pay nearly $4.5 million of its share of Washington County's excise tax up front to go toward an elementary school in the 773-unit development, according to a revised agreement the County Commissioners approved Tuesday.

The commissioners approved the initial agreement last week, but Westfields asked for several changes before signing it, including identifying an amount of the tax it would pay in advance.

The agreement approved last week stated Westfields would pay a significant portion of the tax up front but did not state an amount.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said after the meeting that he anticipates Westfields will sign the revised agreement soon.

Westfields' total excise tax will be about $10 million, Commissioner James F. Kercheval said in a phone interview last week.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell was the only commissioner to vote against the first and revised agreements.

Westfields President Marvin Ausherman could not be reached for comment last week and did not return a phone call Tuesday.

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The developer sued the county in October for $7.5 million for halting the development. The county said it delayed the development because of school capacity issues.

Wivell said by phone last week that the agreement favors Westfields and ignores the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO).

The APFO states that residential projects can't proceed without a plan in place to address school capacities if any of the schools in the area are at or above capacity, he said.

Wivell said that while the agreement addresses elementary school capacity, it does nothing about the near-capacity E. Russell Hicks Middle School and South Hagerstown High School.

The other schools in Westfields' area are Emma K. Doub and Funkstown elementary schools, which already are above capacity.

"It fails our own APFO," Wivell said.

Kercheval said holding off on an agreement with Westfields would mean elementary students would be sitting in crowded classrooms for a longer period of time.

"That is not suitable for our children," he said.

"I think that Westfields needed to take into consideration the secondary schools," School Board member Paul Bailey said Friday.

Under the agreement, Westfields will donate about 13 acres in the development for the school and drop the lawsuit against the county. The agreement allows Westfields to phase in the construction of homes over several years.

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