After three years of negotiations, Howard County has decided to build a golf course at a planned Elkridge subdivision, allowing developers to finally begin building homes on the 352-acre parcel.
Talks between the county and the developer, 100 Investment Limited Partnership, came to a close Wednesday night with an unsigned agreement over the future of the "Centre 9500" project.
If the agreement is signed, the county would take over responsibility for building the golf course -- rather than pay a developer to build it -- and would hire a manager to operate and maintain the course once built.
"We have an agreement in principle," said public works director James M. Irvin. "We have to get the language straightened out, we have to get the thing designed. We're still a ways off" from building the golf course.
The agreement would end three years of negotiation over how much a developer-built golf course would cost the county. The lack of an agreement has stalled development of the project's 186 town houses and 174 detached houses.
"This agreement provides [the developers] with a mechanism to proceed," Mr. Irvin said.
County officials agreed in December to buy a completed golf course from the developer for $6 million, but in recent months negotiations were deadlocked over what amenities would be included in that price.
"Through the months of [negotiations], we began to realize that there were alternatives" to selling the course, said Richard B. Talkin, the developer's attorney.
Now the county would like to reduce that price tag by cutting construction costs, Mr. Irvin said.
"We'll modify the design to bring the cost down," said Mr. Irvin, who did not specify how much the county would like to save.
It was unclear how soon the agreement might be signed, and County Executive Charles I. Ecker and County Council members must approve design changes and financing for the course.
Mr. Ecker was unavailable for comment.
County officials hope to finance the golf course with a type of revenue bond that would enable the course to support itself, Mr. Irvin said.
The county would get a free 160 acres from the developer and 36 acres from the State Highway Administration under the agreement. The smaller parcel is part of a land swap under which the SHA will get 11 acres for Route 100 from Centre 9500.
County officials hope to build the course next year, "but whether it's spring or fall is up in the air," Mr. Irvin said.
Mr. Ecker and the developers, Coscin Adler, Lovell America Inc. and Brantly Development Corp., have all expressed their approval of the agreement, Mr. Talkin said.
In addition to receiving free land for the course, the county would also reap the benefits of about $500,000 worth of engineering work already done on the golf course, Mr. Talkin said.
"We can break ground tomorrow," he said, explaining that the golf course is completely designed. The clubhouse, however, still needs a final design.
Mr. Talkin said the agreement will have language giving developers the right to build the course in the event the county fails to build it.
The decision pleased the few Elkridge residents who showed up at yesterday's planning board meeting intending to testify on allowing the development to proceed.
Ed Niehenke, who lives in Marshalee Estates, said it was important that the golf course be developed to balance out the high-density residential and commercial development that the project brought to the area.
"It's been five years, and nothing's happened with the golf course. As far as I'm concerned, if there's no golf course, there's no site plan and nothing should proceed," Mr. Niehenke said.
The area was rezoned in May 1990 as part of a "site-plan rezoning," which binds the property owner to develop the project according to a specific plan. The site plan listed the golf course as an "integral part" of the overall development.
In April, the developers had asked the county zoning board for a decision that would allow development to proceed without an agreement on the golf course.