Argument over land easements moves to court

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Frustrated with stalled negotiations with three landowners who they say are blocking attempts to begin much-needed renovations at North Carroll Middle School, the Carroll County commissioners have gone to court to condemn the properties.

Noting the need to run sewer lines across the properties to connect the school with a nearby wastewater treatment plant, the commissioners are asking that the county be granted utility easements across the properties, which include a Hampstead golf course that holds more than 300 tournaments a year.

"We've done everything we could possibly do to come up with all solutions, and basically they're holding out," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "They've put us in a very awkward position. We promised citizens in north Carroll this would move forward."

The civil lawsuits were filed Tuesday in Carroll County Circuit Court, and summonses were issued to the defendants Wednesday, court records show. The lawsuits name Hampstead Properties LLC, Joyce Lowe of the 3000 block of Greenmount Church Road and Oakmont Green Golf Club as defendants.

"Hopefully an agreement will be reached at some point down the road," said attorney Charles D. Hollman, who represents Oakmont and Lowe. "There's always a possibility that will occur. I'm not going to exchange blows on this in the paper.

"I don't want to be in a position where we are the ones that are galvanizing people's positions," he added. "There's always a desire and hope that things get worked out to everyone's satisfaction."

Hollman would not comment on details of the negotiations. Attempts to reach Timothy J. Hasson, the agent who represents Hampstead Properties, were unsuccessful.

At an impasse

"All other efforts to resolve the situation have been exhausted," said County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender. "It's a very important project to get the sewer line extended to the middle school, and we've reached an impasse with the situation."

Gouge said that correspondence with property representatives had been going on for months with no progress. Every time the county acquiesced to a demand, another one popped up, she said. The owners seemed to agree to appraised values of the easements -- $18,000 for Oakmont, $5,000 for the Lowe property -- but other issues held up agreement, Gouge said.

Gouge provided examples: The owners wanted to be able to hook up to the sewer system if their septic systems failed, and the county agreed. When a concern was raised about workers disturbing golfers, the county agreed to have the work done at night and at odd hours.

The $18.2 million renovation of the 47-year-old middle school -- where the septic system has failed, the heating system is unpredictable and the roof leaks -- had been scheduled to begin in October last year. Work crews are expected to tackle one wing at a time as North Carroll's 690 students rotate in and out of a cluster of portable classrooms set aside to make up for the wing under construction. Work was to be completed by November next year.

Renovations cannot begin until all easements for the project, including extension of public sewer and water lines to the school, have been acquired.

Septic failure

When the school's septic system failed more than a year ago, sewage seeped into athletic fields. Since then, the school has paid contractors to haul sewage from the school daily -- 5,000 gallons a week.

The school has paid more than $10,000 to treat the waste at the county's plant in Hampstead, said Franklin Schaeffer, the county's deputy director of public works. He said that he expects the hauling to go on for at least another year.

Students have been forced to tolerate the foul odor caused by the septic system, puddles of rain in the building because of the leaky roof and cold classrooms.

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