Residents mull appeal in effort to shift school


A residents group has lost the first round in its effort to shift the planned western high school from the 50-acre site at Trotter Road and Route 108 chosen by the school board.

The Trotter Road Citizens Association is scheduled to meet tonight to decide whether to appeal an administrative law judge's decision that favored the school board and/or to oppose the site before the county planning board.

Administrative law judge Charles W. Fowler heard arguments in April on whether the State Board of Education should review the Howard County board's site choice. In a decision released late last week, Fowler said the selection process was not arbitrary, unreasonable or illegal, so the state board has no grounds to review it.

Trotter Road residents "thought it was a bum deal, that the whole process was not done fairly," said association president Nancy Parlette. She said neighbors felt the county school board did not take their concerns seriously.

The association contended that the board should have looked at other sites, that the school should be built farther west, that the building will not fit on the existing property and that the high school is incompatible with the adjacent Clarksville Elementary School and Columbia Memorial Park.

Attorney Michael S. Molinaro, representing the school board at the April hearing, countered that school officials had looked at another site along Route 108 near the planned River Hill village center and that the site is centrally located to relieve overcrowding at Glenelg, Centennial and Atholton high schools.

The Trotter Road residents could file an exception to Fowler's decision with the state board, which would then uphold or overrule the administrative law judge's ruling. The state board lacks legal authority to order the county board to build the school somewhere else, but could compel the county board to look at alternative sites.

Another avenue for the residents is to challenge the site at the county planning board hearing May 12. The proposed high school must go through planning board review because the site lies in Columbia and is under new town zoning.

Most of the site is tentatively identified as "new town open space," with a school as the only permitted use planned for the property. At the May 12 hearing, the planning board will consider whether to approve the "new town open space" designation.

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