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Questions and answers at town hall meeting [Marriottsville/Sykesville/Woodstock]

Numerous local issues were raised on June 12, when the West Friendship Elementary Advocacy Committee hosted a town hall meeting at the school.

Panelists included Howard County Council members Greg Fox and Courtney Watson, as well as Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning for Howard County Public Schools. The trio answered questions about several topics of interest to our community.

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First on the slate was the subject of large-scale mulching facilities. The conflict became moot in our immediate area after Sheree Stedding announced that she was selling her Sykesville property to buyers other than RLO Contractors, the Elkridge-based excavation company that wants to relocate its mulching operations to western Howard County,

Fox said the new buyers are the owners of Frank's Produce and Greenhouse in Elkridge.

Brenda Rhodes confirmed via email that she and her husband, Frank, have purchased the Stedding farm, but they have not decided whether to move operations there, farm the land or simply live there.

Meeting attendees were asked to contact the Maryland Department of the Environment and the county executive's office if they have concerns about other mulching facilities.

Another topic was the Woodmont property on Route 97. Fox confirmed that the hearing examiner approved conditional use of the site with restrictions, but both Dar-us-salaam (DUS) and Residents for Responsible Development of Woodmont (RRDW) are appealing the decision — DUS because it opposes the restrictions, RRDW because it now opposes conditional use after its failed negotiations with DUS.

Fox said the County Council does not have jurisdiction over this issue, which is now before the county's Board of Appeals.

Public school issues drew the most spirited involvement. Gallihue indicated that the school system's current focus is in the eastern part of the county, and no new school is planned in our area for at least the next six years.

However, more than 300 new housing units are slated for the initial phase of construction in Turf Valley. Most of these units will be condos, which typically produce few students, but a possibility does exist for local schools to exceed capacity in the next 18 months. Gallihue said new students would go to Manor Woods Elementary, and the county could consider redistricting some students to West Friendship.

Additionally, the concept plan for Doughoregan Manor (behind Kiwanis Wallas Park) shows 300 new single family homes over a 10-15 year period, and the corresponding influx of families will also impact local schools.

The county currently owns land at the corner of Route 40 and Marriottsville Road for a future middle school, and land has been reserved (not yet purchased) for a school in Turf Valley. However, work on these schools cannot begin until after the eastern school is complete, sometime near the end of the decade.

Several attendees asked about the potential closing of West Friendship Elementary. Gallihue confirmed that although the school district has temporarily tabled that scenario, the issue will return. The county feels that the school is outdated and will need to be replaced rather than renovated. However, Waverly Elementary will require a new addition before the county can close WFES.

Some attendees emphasized that schools are the center of rural communities, and closing WFES could negatively impact the entire area. Others asked about running public water and sewer to the school to eliminate concerns about its aging septic system. Fox and Watson explained that this solution is not feasible due to capacity limits on treatment facilities and the increased housing density that accompanies public water and sewer.

To ask questions, make suggestions or learn about future town hall meetings, contact WFES Advocacy Committee member Hina Naseem at hnaseem@mac.com.

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