Hoping to rescue a plan to add a new neighborhood to Columbia, the Rouse Co. made the Columbia Association a fresh offer yesterday, to provide more than $1 million in interest-free financing while eliminating some of the project's parks, tennis courts and other amenities.
Rafia Siddiqui, the Columbia Association's vice president for administrative services, presented Rouse's new offer last night at a special meeting of the association's board of directors.
She had asked Rouse officials this month to sweeten the deal after it became clear that a plan to annex a future Rouse development in North Laurel was likely to die in a tie council vote.
Part of the meeting was conducted in executive session, because the directors - who also serve as Columbia Council members - wanted to discuss strategies for negotiating with Rouse. But during an hourlong open session, Siddiqui made a pitch for accepting the deal.
"What local government, town or municipality would not want to add land, new construction, new tax revenue and new energy and community vitality?" Siddiqui asked.
Some council members opposed to the original plan expressed reservations about the new one, complaining that Siddiqui met with Rouse officials without their knowledge.
Councilman Robert Conors of Dorsey's Search said he thought the new proposal needed to be brought to residents in a series of public hearings, just as the original one had.
"Now it's all a different game," he said.
Howard Research and Development, a Rouse affiliate, has asked the Columbia Association to annex the commercial and residential Key development planned for North Laurel.
The project, which still faces a legal challenge by neighbors opposed to the development itself, is planned for 665 acres straddling Interstate 95, between Route 216 and Gorman Road.
Under the plan, the association would provide a pool, parks, pathways and other recreational amenities for the development. In return, the Columbia Association would collect assessment revenue from about 2 million- square-feet of commercial space and about 1,200 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes.
Siddiqui has said the original deal would add anywhere from $2.7 million to $22.8 million to association coffers over 20 years. But critics call those estimates too rosy and say the project would be a distraction at a time when the Columbia Association should focus on the needs of its existing villages.
The new proposal cuts the number of amenities CA must build and provides the association with interest-free financing to pay for some of those projects, Siddiqui said. It would add at least $4.2 million to association coffers over 20 years - up from the original $2.7 million minimum, Siddiqui said.
Under the new offer, Rouse would provide CA with an interest- free loan of about $1.18 million to pay for construction of the new pool. Rouse also would build the parks and neighborhood entrances, with CA eventually reimbursing the company the $277,000 cost without paying any interest.
The number of tot lots would fall from nine to six, parks from five to four, tennis courts from three to two and neighborhood entrances from 10 to six, Siddiqui said, saving CA $465,000 in building costs.
Councilwoman Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach expressed concern that scaling back the recreational amenities would not be fair to the new residents.
"They're our residents," she said. "We have to look out for them."
Acting CA President Charles Rhodehamel said that even at the reduced levels, the number of amenities met the association's guidelines.
That statement provoked pointed questioning from council members Vincent Marando of Wilde Lake and Adam Rich of River Hill, opponents of the original plan. They wanted to know why the amenity levels exceeded the guidelines in the original plan.
Council Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice and Rhodehamel said that was because detailed engineering studies for the project had just been completed, indicating there was less open space than originally anticipated because of wetlands on the property.
The council has set a Sept. 28 vote on annexation.