Howard County Board of Education recommends amending purchasing agreement for new high school in Jessup

The Howard County Board of Education voted unanimously last week to recommend multiple amendments to a school purchasing agreement currently before the County Council.

Last September, county government agreed to purchase nearly 80 acres of land in Jessup to build the county’s 13th high school to alleviate overcrowding. The county agreed to purchase the site land from Gould Property Co., the Washington-based general partner of Chase Land and Annapolis Junction Holdings, for $19.7 million, according to court records.

The school, anticipated to be completed by September 2023, is expected to cost $130 million and accommodate 1,650 students.

However, in order for the county to proceed with purchasing the land by June to stay on track, the County Council must approve a resolution to adopt a Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement.

The agreement has already drawn skepticism from Councilwoman Liz Walsh and other activists who are concerned it gives too much control to the owners who hold nearly 500 acres of land surrounding the site that are already zoned for residential, business and manufacturing development.

The agreement would exempt Chase Land, owners of the adjacent Savage Stone quarry from new zoning regulations including those that deal with forest conservation and stream buffer ordinances. The agreement as is would also keep the property from being subject to the new Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance school capacity requirements slated to go into effect in July.

The Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement does acknowledge the county has the right to make new rules and regulations for the property if it’s for the health and safety of residents. But if county officials choose to enforce that, the landowners would be exempt from “any and all obligations” outlined in the agreement, the DRRA says.

The agreement is for 25 years.

The school board voted unanimously April 11 to recommend the County Council slash these requirements and reduce the exemption period to five years and allow for the possibility of review or renewal.

School board member Vicky Cutroneo made the request for the board to consider voting on the DRRA amendments.

In a statement, Cutroneo said “it is our responsibility to consider the long-term impacts of exempting a property owner from future zoning and land use laws for the next 25 years.

“One only needs to look at the severe overcrowding of schools in the Turf Valley [which are exempt from the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance] area to understand the implications,” she said, adding that with APFO controls in place, “the school system is better able to plan for and keep pace with enrollment.”

Sang Oh, an attorney for the property owners, said during the Planning Board meeting April 11 that the quarry only has 10 years left on the conditional-use permit and the owners would have to petition for an extension to continue mining.

Oh did not respond to an email request for further comment.

He previously said his clients have been working on amendments to the agreement with Howard County’s Office of Law and that he would provide testimony “that will hopefully address these concerns.”

All of the County Council members either did not respond to a request for comment or declined to comment, pending a public hearing next week.

County Executive Calvin Ball filed the resolution seeking council approval for the DRRA on March 21. Spokesman Scott Peterson, in a statement, said Ball is “aware of comments from the Board of Education regarding the DRRA.”

Ball “remains committed to addressing school overcrowding and will work with the school system to keep this project moving on schedule in order to address the critical needs and shortages the Howard County Public School System faces in terms of ensuring adequate facilities and space for the county’s growing student population over the next several years and decades,” Peterson said.

The County Council will host a public hearing about the resolution and other legislation at 7 p.m. April 22 in the George Howard Building.

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