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Washington Co. leaders differ on constructing new roads in Robinwood

May 15, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
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HAGERSTOWN -- Local officials agree new roads are needed to support the growing Robinwood area, but deciding how to start tackling the potential $25 million to $35 million project is proving to be controversial.

Knowing such a large project will require developer support and funding from all levels of government, some Washington County Commissioners want to wait for a developer to step forward to help, while others are taking an "if you build it they will come" approach.

A concept plan for that area developed by the county's public works department involves building a large loop road, mostly on a 222-acre parcel often referred to as Mount Aetna Farms after a development that once was proposed for it, said Joseph Kroboth III, the county's public works director.

The loop would connect to Eastern Boulevard by extending Professional Court over Antietam Creek, and would also connect to Yale Drive, to a new road being built off Robinwood Drive called Varsity Lane, and to Hagerstown Community College's Scholar Drive through a new back entrance, Kroboth said.

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The roads would provide much-needed secondary access to the new Meritus Regional Medical Center scheduled to open in December and to the growing Hagerstown Community College campus, officials said. Those are two of the county's most vital institutions, but the roads in the area already are congested and only poised to get worse, Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

The roads also would open the Mount Aetna Farms parcel to development.

"I could envision that as really being a strong area for economic development in the future, more high-end, better-paying jobs," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said.

Potential biotech site

Among those pushing for the new roads are leaders of a local nonprofit organization that has been eyeing Mount Aetna Farms for a potential biotechnology park or other high-tech use.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF, is in "serious negotiations" with the current owner, Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries, to buy a large portion of the property, CHIEF President Richard Phoebus said.

He said Diakon was interested in keeping some land -- less than a quarter of what it has acquired -- for potential expansion of its Village at Robinwood senior living facility.

William Swanger, Diakon's vice president for corporate communications, confirmed the company was interested in selling most of the land and keeping some for potential expansion. However, he said the expansion plans were not definite and would depend on state approvals and capital availability.

CHIEF's negotiations for the land are on hold while Diakon fleshes out those plans, Phoebus said. Even if CHIEF did acquire the land, developing a biotech park could take decades as the organization waits for the right companies to come along, he said.

Bridge funding

Meanwhile, the Hagerstown City Council has begun seeking federal funding for a bridge to take Professional Court across Antietam Creek as a first step toward building the new roads.

In directing the city's federal lobbyist, the city council listed the bridge as its top priority federal funding request, Metzner said.

The city also proposed submitting the bridge project for consideration for federal funding distributed through the Appalachian Regional Commission for local access roads. Kathy Maher, the city's planning director, said the city wanted to request $500,000 from that source to apply toward design of the bridge.

However, Washington County Commissioners Kristin B. Aleshire and William J. Wivell said they did not want to submit that request because there were too many unknowns surrounding the project.

Aleshire said in a phone interview that one of his concerns was a lack of formal, public discussion among the commissioners and among the various levels of government to decide where the project would rank among other planned road projects and how it would be funded.

Capital Improvement Plan

The only portion of the project listed in the county's five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is to begin designing the portion of the project between HCC and Varsity Lane in fiscal year 2016. The bridge over Antietam Creek is not listed in the county's five-year CIP.

"My concern was we would get the money from federal folks, who seem interested, and then not have in our own capital plans funding that we would need," Aleshire said, calling it "a bit disingenuous" to ask the federal delegation for funding for a project not in the county's own budget.

Kroboth said the project was not within the five-year plan based on an affordability analysis and because the commissioners had identified other projects, including the proposed Southern Boulevard and improvements to Robinwood Drive and Eastern Boulevard, as more pressing.

He said one of the big factors that goes into prioritizing capital projects is the ability to leverage noncounty funding, such as federal grants.

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