CA officer, Rouse Co. set to meet


With a proposal to annex the Key property on the verge of rejection by the Columbia Council, a Columbia Association officer plans to meet with Rouse Co. executives this week to see whether they're willing to sweeten the deal.

Rafia Siddiqui, CA's vice president for administrative services, said she arranged to meet with Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of Rouse, and David E. Forester, senior development director and vice president at Howard Research and Development Corp., a Rouse affiliate.

"As the chief financial officer of CA, I think there has to be shared risk for shared benefits," Siddiqui said. "I have developed two or three alternatives and want to discuss which ones they would be open to."

Among Siddiqui's suggestions: having Rouse lend the Columbia Association the more than $4 million it would need for its initial investment in the project.

Scavo said last week that he is open to suggestions. He declined to comment on specific proposals.

"I'll listen to any offer and then I'll react based on whether that offer makes any sense or not," he said.

Howard Research and Development has asked the Columbia Association to annex a development planned for 665 acres in North Laurel. Under the proposal, the association would provide a pool, parks, pathways and other recreational amenities for the development. In return, the association could collect assessment revenue from about 2 million square feet of commercial space and about 1,200 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes.

For that to happen, the plan must be accepted by both the Columbia Council and the Kings Contrivance village board. The development would become a fourth neighborhood in that village.

Kings Contrivance board members, who have expressed at least qualified support for the plan, are to vote Wednesday. Support has been weaker on the council, which is scheduled to vote Sept. 28. Five of the council's 10 members have said they are against the plan or leaning that way, which would mean the plan would fail.

Siddiqui has said the project would add from $2.7 million to $22.8 million to Columbia Association coffers over 20 years. Critics have called those projections too optimistic and have argued that Columbia should concentrate on the needs of its established neighborhoods instead of focusing on a new one.

Siddiqui, who has not taken a public stance on the plan, said she wanted to see whether Rouse would make its proposal more attractive to council members before they reject it outright.

"There are financial benefits [to annexation] for CA," she said. "Therefore, I want to explore all the alternatives and possibilities before it's a dead issue."

Under the original plan, the Columbia Association would make an initial investment of about $4.3 million and issue bonds or obtain other long-term financing to pay for that.

An alternative Siddiqui has proposed calls for Rouse to provide the financing - presumably at a lower cost or for free, though Siddiqui declined to provide details. Siddiqui said it was premature to disclose her other proposals. She agreed to discuss the financing proposal because it was mentioned at a public hearing Tuesday.

The financing proposal was offered almost as an aside at the hearing, listed with dozens of other project details during a slide show. Several council members said they knew nothing about the financing alternative before the hearing and were unaware of it afterward because they did not have a clear view of the screen.

Council Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice, who favors annexation, said Siddiqui brought the financing proposal to him before the meeting. "Rafia suggested it and said, 'Lanny, what do you think?' And I said, 'Why not throw it out there?'" Morrison said.

Three council members reached Friday - Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach, Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills and Vincent Marando of Wilde Lake - said they were not aware that Siddiqui planned to meet with Rouse officials. All three oppose annexation. The other two opponents, Robert Conors of Dorsey's Search, and Adam Rich of River Hill, could not be reached for comment.

"I'm really surprised at that," Marando said of the meeting. "We, as a council, have not discussed any process for negotiation."

Januszkiewicz, Russell and Marando said they would be willing to listen if Rouse makes a better offer. But the three - who are concerned the project would distract attention from existing areas - said they were unlikely to change their votes because their objections to the project were not just financial.

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