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Washington County Commissioners agree to build road for developer

January 11, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

SHARPSBURG ? The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday approved what amounts to an interest-free loan for one of the area's largest developers, which says the slow housing market is hampering its ability to pay for a much-needed public road it agreed to build.

The county commissioners voted 4-1 to fund the construction of Cambeltown Drive in front of Rockland Woods Elementary School with the understanding that it could be five years before Westfields LLC pays the county back for the work.

Depending on how much of the road the county builds, it could cost between $200,000 and $360,000.

Westfields LLC had agreed to fund the construction of Cambeltown Drive as part of its 773-unit Westfields housing development off Sharpsburg Pike.

When it is finished, Cambeltown Drive will provide access to a drop-off area at Rockland Woods Elementary, which is being built near the housing development.

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The school is scheduled to open in the fall. However, the developer cannot afford to pay for the road by then because the section of the Westfields development that was to fund it won't be built for several years, said Jeremy Holder, Westfields project manager.

"The market has slowed this project, and it will be years before we sell those houses," Holder said.

Boyd Michael, assistant superintendent for school operations for Washington County Public Schools, told the county commissioners Tuesday that access to the drop-off loop at Rockland Woods will be needed when the school opens to prevent traffic from backing up.

Michael said many of the county's existing elementary schools are "traffic nightmares" during drop-off and pickup times.

"Our schools were never built for so many parents dropping their kids off," said Michael, who noted that the county's three new elementary schools were designed with larger drop-off areas.

Westfields has signed agreements with the county that required the developer to donate land for Rockland Woods Elementary and build some public roads, including Cambeltown Drive.

Such agreements, called Adequate Public Facilities Agreements, are meant to ease the strain that new housing developments can put on public roads, schools and other infrastructure.

The county commissioners voted to amend one of the agreements Tuesday to delay the developer's obligation to fund Cambeltown Drive. Under the new agreement, Westfields LLC will have up to five years to pay the county for the road construction. The developer will not be charged interest.

Commissioner William J. Wivell voted against the agreement.

The county will decide over the next few weeks how much of the road should be built. About 350 feet of road needs to be built to provide access to the drop-off area. The school board has asked that the entire road, about 650 feet, be finished before the fall.

If the county builds the full length of the road, the cost of materials and labor will be less expensive per square foot, said Joseph Kroboth, Washington County's director of public works.

At 350 feet, Kroboth estimated the cost would be between $200,000 and $225,000. For the full 650 feet, he said the cost would be about $360,000.

In 2005, Westfields LLC filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against the county for halting the Westfields project. At the time, county officials said there was no room in area schools for the students that the project would generate.

The matter was settled in 2006, when Westfields agreed to pay $4.5 million in excise taxes in advance to help fund construction of Rockland Woods. The developer also donated the land for the elementary school.

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