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Howard lawmakers vote to allow county to enter into agreement to build 13th high school in Jessup

The Howard County Council voted 3-2 on Monday night to allow local officials to enter into an agreement to purchase land in Jessup to build a 13th high school.

The County Council’s adoption of the Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement is required to purchase the 77 acres from Gould Property Co. for $19.7 million, according to court records. Gould is the Washington-based general partner of Chase Land and Annapolis Junction Holdings.

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Council members David Yungmann, Christiana Mercer Rigby and Opel Jones voted in favor. Deb Jung and Liz Walsh voted in dissent, citing concern for its impact on the nearly 500 acres of land surrounding the site, which is zoned for residential, business and manufacturing.

“No legitimate basis exists for that [agreement]. The underlying land sale, and site work, all were bargained for by [a] separate purchase agreement for fair market value,” Walsh said in a statement.

“I do not want to see another document like that on the council’s docket again. The developer handouts have got to stop.”

The $130.7 million construction project is estimated to accommodate 1,650 students and is designed to have 579 parking spaces and 34 school bus parking spaces. The county is hoping to start building in 2020 and open the school by September 2023, according to a press release.

The Planning Board last month unanimously determined the agreement was consistent with the county general plan policies.

The agreement will apply to a quarry on the nearly 500 acres surrounding the 13th high school. Lawmakers voted to pass an amendment filed by County Executive Calvin Ball that would require the owner to be subject to some ordinances including Adequate Public Facilities Act, the Subdivision and Land Development Regulations and the Forest Conservation Act.

The owner would be exempt if proposed changes “specifically affect or targets, or could reasonably be construed to specifically affect or target” the quarry or the land surrounding it.

The property owner would have to prove the change if it specifically targets them.

A 1997 Board of Appeals case that gave conditional use approval to the owners was cited by school board member Christina Delmont-Small and Walsh, both of whom expressed concern the agreement would allow the owners to sidestep a decision.

In public meetings, both cited a sentence in the 1997 case that said the owners would operate the “quarry for only 25 years, even if product is left to be mined.”

In the decision, the Board of Appeals said the owner could not renew its approved conditional use after 25 years.

Scott Peterson, spokesman for County Executive Calvin Ball, said that without the agreement, property owners could still apply for a new conditional use. The Board of Appeals case does not disallow owners from applying for a new conditional use, he added.

In addition to constructing a school, the county plans to use the land to build an elevated water storage facility and pipeline as well as a road to access the site.The county paid $5.5 million for this portion of the land.

After owners cease operations, rainwater will make the quarry into a lake which could take up to 10 years, said Sang Oh, an attorney for the property owners.

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