Rouse's Key plan rejected by CA board


The Columbia Association's board of directors rejected last night the latest Rouse Co. proposal for annexation of the Key property, but late into the night the panel was discussing several possible counterproposals.

On a night when they had long planned to vote up or down on annexation, directors were presented with seven versions of a plan to make a future Rouse Co. development a fourth neighborhood in Kings Contrivance.

Rouse officials would like their development to be part of the planned community with Columbia-style recreational amenities, but some in Columbia have objected to the potential price tag and question whether the community should expand now.

Each of the alternatives considered last night - one from Rouse, the other six developed by the Columbia Association's financial management committee and association staff - called for different financing arrangements that affected how profitable the deal would be for the associaion.

The board voted 8-2 to reject the four least profitable options, including Rouse's latest offer, with Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills and Councilman Bob Conors of Dorsey's Search in the minority.

The vote came after Rafia Siddiqui, the Columbia Association's chief financial officer, urged the board not to pass up what she called a "rare" opportunity to expand the community and reap a financial windfall that she has said could exceed $20 million over 20 years.

"The impact of your decision will be felt for many years to come," she said.

Howard Research and Development, a Rouse affiliate, asked the Columbia Association in the spring of 1999 to annex the development, which will be marketed under the name Emerson but is commonly referred to by its original name of Key. The project, which still faces a legal challenge by neighbors opposed to the development itself, is planned for 665 acres in North Laurel straddling Interstate 95, between Route 216 and Gorman Road.

Under Rouse's original proposal, the association would pay about $4 million to build a pool, parks, pathways and other recreational amenities for the new community. 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 it became clear that the original plan was likely to die in tie vote - the council voted 5-5 in a straw vote in August - Rouse sweetened the deal. The company offered the association more than $2 million in interest-free financing for some of the amenities that he association would have to provide. It also reduced the number of amenities, which would save the association $465,000 in building costs.

Without discussion on the substance of those proposals, the board rejected the new Rouse offer and three alternatives proposed by the financial management committee.

The alternatives called for Rouse to pay for more of the amenities itself or to give the association more time to repay the company any money borrowed.

Under one of the rejected proposals, HRD would have paid for building parks and neighborhood entrances. Also rejected was an plan to allow the association to repay Rouse $1.2 million for pool construction only when cash flow for the project is positive - instead of two years after the pool opens, as proposed by Rouse.

Three proposals were still on the table late last night, one of them an arrangement that a Rouse official has previously called unacceptable.

Under that plan, Rouse would pay for all of the recreational amenities, at a cost of $3.6 million. Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of Rouse, has said the company would not pay for all of the amenities and then turn the project over to the Columbia Association.

Of the other two alternatives being considered by the board, one called for HRD to pay for all of the amenities up front, with the association reimbursing the company the $3.6 million when the cash flow is positive. The other calls for HRD to pay for all of the amenities except for the $1.2 million pool, which the association would build.

Those alternatives have not been presented to Rouse. Councilman Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge, chairman of the finance committee, said he wanted to see if the board could muster the necessary six votes for any plan before reopening negotiations with Rouse.

Siddiqui has said the original deal would add anywhere from $2.7 million to $22.8 million to association coffers over 20 years. She has said the sweetened deal would improve the minimum windfall to about $4.2 million over 20 years.

Critics have called those estimates too rosy.

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