A private school that angered Glenwood residents with a proposal to build a new campus in their midst is trying to buy surplus Howard County land elsewhere for its campus -- a move that could resolve problems for the school, the county and local residents.
The Woodmont Academy, now in Woodstock in neighboring Baltimore County, has bid $1.3 million for county land in Cooksville, on Route 144, county officials said. If successful, the purchase would end the controversy over another site on Dorsey Mill Road in Glenwood, give the school the room it needs and provide the county with money that would be used for a new government office complex in Ellicott City.
"If it works out, it solves the community's problem," said County Executive James N. Robey, who has final say on surplus property sales.
"The site is not near many residences, just two or three horse farms. It provides better access for parents and students," said David Carney, Woodmont's zoning attorney. "We think we offered fair-market value. We'd really like to have it."
If the county land deal goes through, Woodmont would sell its land in Glenwood, Carney said.
The bidding period on the Cooksville site ended Friday. James M. Irvin, county public works director, said a decision on a purchaser is expected within two weeks. The county had hoped to get $2 million for the rural land, which is on the north side of Route 144, east of a county highway maintenance yard near McKendree Road.
Robey and Irvin said the county did not want the land sold for housing, so the school might fit in. The county is attempting to sell several surplus buildings and properties to raise money to begin construction of a 25-acre county government office campus on Rogers Avenue, south of U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. None has been sold.
Owen Rouse, the Manekin LLC official conducting the sale, said the bidding period for improved surplus properties -- or buildings -- ended Sept. 21. The deadline for bids on unimproved land was Friday. There is at least one bid for every county property offered, Rouse said, adding that a process of evaluation and sometimes negotiation follows the bidding before a sale is concluded.
Woodmont Academy announced plans last year to expand from a crowded, 7-acre hillside in Baltimore County to a 53-acre, residentially zoned western Howard tract between Routes 32 and 97. School officials had bought the land in 1999 for about $1 million. Enrollment at Woodmont has expanded from 49 pupils when it opened in 1995 to 205 last fall. About 60 percent live in Howard County, officials said.
Neighbors in Glenwood vehemently oppose the plan to build the campus near them, however. About 100 residents placed protest signs in their yards last year and formed a community group, Preserve Scenic Glenelg/Glenwood Association. Hearings on whether a conditional use should be granted for construction of the school in Glenwood are scheduled next month before the county Planning Board and then the Board of Appeals.
If the school gets the county-owned land, the opposition likely would melt away, residents said.
"It does move it out of my back yard. I think it's a much better situation in terms of the traffic," said Vince Doran, who lives on Sharps Road.
Doran said he knew the vacant land near his home was zoned for residential use when he moved in, and he would not object to the roughly 26 homes zoning would allow. But the school use would be too much, he said.
"I live fairly close to the [Glenwood] site," he said. "No matter what bus system they proposed, they're likely to have a great many private vehicles."
If the county land purchase doesn't go through, the community will be fighting the school at the county hearings, Doran said.