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Village backs Rouse plan


As the Columbia Association continues to press the Rouse Co. for a better deal, the Kings Contrivance Village Board voted 4-1 last night in favor of annexing the company's future development in North Laurel.

The panel is the only one of Columbia's 10 village boards with a say in the annexation proposal because the project would become a fourth neighborhood in Kings Contrivance.

The plan faces a vote Sept. 28 in the Columbia Council, which is trying to get Rouse to improve its latest offer. "There are negotiations right now with CA and Rouse to make things even sweeter, I believe," Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance told the board.

Howard Research and Development (HRD), a Rouse affiliate, has asked the Columbia Association to annex a future development planned for 665 acres in North Laurel. Under the original plan, 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.

After a straw vote of the 10-member council made it clear that the plan was likely to fail in a tie vote, Rouse made a new offer in a letter to the council last week.

Under the new plan, HRD would provide the Columbia Association with $2.29 million in interest-free financing for building some of the recreational amenities, cutting the amount of money the association would have to borrow at market rates for the project. The new proposal also cut the number of recreational amenities planned for the development, further reducing the cost to the Columbia Association.

Board member Robert Patchan cast the only vote against the plan. He later said that he thought annexation might make financial sense, but expressed concern because the area is not contiguous to Columbia.

The homeowners association has annexed other properties in its 33-year history, some of them not contiguous to the rest of Columbia, but that has not fostered a sense of community, Patchan said.

Under the new plan, the project would add at least $4.2 million to association coffers over 20 years, up from a minimum of $2.7 million under the original plan, Rafia Siddiqui, the association'svice president for administrative services, has said.

If any of the five council members opposed to the original deal have been won over by Rouse's latest offer, they have not made themselves known. Halpin, who supports annexation, said the council has decided to go back to Rouse "with certain other things" that would make the deal "better for CA."

He said the result would probably be "something between them paying for everything -- which they aren't going to do -- and what we have now," he said. After last night's vote, the board developed a list of conditions that it would like to see imposed on annexation: that the pool for the new development be built once 15 percent of the new homes are occupied; that potential buyers be told that their property would be subject to the Columbia Association lien; that a neighborhood center be built, possibly adjacent to the pool; and that the Columbia Council agree to support increases to the Kings Contrivance village budget needed to cover the costs of the additional neighborhood, for such things as more newsletters and administrative staff.

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