A landowner has threatened to sell a 15-acre parcel near Bel Air to another buyer unless the county, which wants it for a new elementary school, gives him a purchase contract for the land in a month.

Thelandowner, Winton Osborne of Forest Hill, contends the county misseda deadline to express its intent to buy. But county administrators say they formally notified Osborne that they want to purchase the site, off Route 24 near the Forest Hill Recreation Complex. The school would be located in a new section of the Forest Lakes community.

If the county does not get the land, plans for a new, badly needed 600-student school could be interrupted. Without a site, the state will not designate money for a new school.

The county in an Oct. 6, 1988, letter to Osborne notified him that a concept development plan for the Forest Lakes development had been approved. In that letter,the county said it would have two years from the date of the approval to decide whether it would purchase a site in the development for aschool. That letter was countersigned by Osborne on Nov. 11, 1988.

A letter dated March 16, 1990, from William G. Carroll, the county director of planning and zoning, and Stanley Kozenewski, county director of Parks and Recreation, was sent to Osborne regarding the county's intentions. The letter states, in part, "Harford County hereby expresses its interest in acquiring additional land for a potential school or recreational use. . . . Harford County wishes to purchase a site containing an adequate area of buildable land for recreational or school facilities."

The letter notes that the site in mind is 20 acres, with five acres to be considered a donation under open space requirements. The other 15 acres would be purchased by the county, the letter states.

No purchase price is mentioned in the letter, but Osborne's attorney says the asking price is $900,000 for the 15-acres -- about $60,000 an acre.

"They're saying the county lost the opportunity by not responding within two years after the concept plan was approved in 1988, but we sent a letter in March 1990 saying we did want land for a school, and we expected to hear back from them," Carroll said.

"We need the school site. We've made the deal. We're goingto get it. That's the story," Carroll added.

But Robert S. Lynch,a lawyer with Stark & Keenan representing Osborne, said the county missed the deadline.

"There is an option on that property to an individual who wants to buy it," Lynch said. "But it is available to thecounty. What we're saying to the county is: 'What do you want to do?If you want to buy it, buy it, just don't wait two more years to decide.' "

Lynch said that, in a letter sent Wednesday to Ray R. Keech, the county school superintendent, Osborne gave the county until Aug. 5 to send a letter of intent to purchase the site. The letter alsoset a contract deadline of Aug. 26 and a settlement deadline of Sept. 15, Lynch said.

The site is key because schools in the area are already overcrowded, said Alden H. Halsey, deputy school superintendent.

"We have got to have a site in that area, there's no question about it," Halsey said. Although the Board of Education has sometimesnegotiated for school sites, the board has allowed the county to negotiate for the sites for the Route 543 school, to be opened in 1993, and the proposed Forest Lakes Elementary School.

Halsey said the new school in the Forest Lakes area would serve more than 900 homes planned as part of the development's expansion and would alleviate overcrowding at Bel Air, Forest Hills and Hickory elementary schools.

The Board of Education is scheduled to seek planning approval from the state next year for a school in the area that would open in the fall of 1995.

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