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Property dealings put county's penchant for control on display

If there is one word that's not in the Howard County vocabulary, it is "random." The county does not do random. The chips do not fall where they may. Fate is never cast to the wind.

On the other hand, "control" — that's a word to conjure with here.

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The county's hands-on penchant is on full display with regard to a piece of property at the corner of Route 1 and Whiskey Bottom Road. The 1.92-acre Hurst property, a former antiques store, was on the shopping list of former County Executive Ken Ulman as his term came to an end last December, and the county bought it for $1.9 million.

Questions were raised about an "inappropriate" use of tax-exempt bonds to make the purchase, and the County Council on Oct. 5 voted to authorize County Executive Allan Kittleman to put the land back up for sale, inviting developers to make an offer and submit a plan.

Whatever plan is submitted will get microscopic examination.

Along with its approval, the council told Kittleman to issue an analysis of the best use of the land to benefit the community and help revitalize the Route 1 corridor. Also, the council ordered that a community group made up of at least three local residents evaluate any proposals received.

This would all be apart from normal planning and zoning restrictions, hearings and procedures.

The sponsor of the community-group-evaluation measure was Democratic Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, who represents the southeast county where the property is located. She emphasized the importance of the corner to her constituents and said any sale "just to the highest bidder" might not result in the greatest good to the community. She wants the new use to be "a gateway to the community."

The possibility that the community group would not be able to offer recommendations in time for the sale to go through was raised by Republican Councilman Greg Fox.

Fox suggested that the conditions now placed on the property sale could prove so burdensome that it could push the sale price down. He offered an amendment that evaluation of development proposals take no more than 60 days and councilmembers adopted it. However, they rejected another of his amendments that would require that price be a factor in the plan evaluation.

The story so far — The county bought a piece of real estate and is now placing it back on the market less than a year later freighted with sale conditions so any potential developer will construct what the county wants.

Step right up!

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