Talks continue for VFW, schools

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Members of the Ellicott City Veterans of Foreign Wars post voted to continue negotiating the sale of a portion of the group's 28-acre property near Montgomery Road to the county school system for a new northeast elementary school.

No specific proposals, amounts of land or monetary figures have been decided.

"We don't have a solid offer from them," said Larry Buehler, senior vice commander of the post and a member of its planning committee, which is negotiating the sale.

"We still need to ascertain what the value of the property is, from our point of view," he said.

The sale of the land could figure into the County Council's decisions regarding applications to change the use of about 39 acres along the road under Howard's comprehensive rezoning, held every 10 years.

Nearby residents believe the area, opposite Long Gate shopping center, should have anything but commercial uses. But those living on Montgomery Road have said that no one should have to endure living next to such a busy thoroughfare.

County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, suggested the location as a site for a new northeastern elementary school.

Because the site "straddles the north and northeast school districts," Merdon said, a school in this location would "relieve the overcrowding we see in this region."

Although he is waiting until the comprehensive rezoning process before making a final decision, Merdon said the potential purchase would affect rezoning decisions about this area significantly.

If the school is not there, it "changes the flavor of what we are going to discuss during comprehensive rezoning," he said.

School board officials have said that a new school would be needed despite additions planned nearby because of expected crowding from the demands of the full-day kindergarten requirement.

The Howard school system is considering this and other locations in the area, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "Our search for feasible sites is ongoing, particularly in north and northeast," she said.

Of 43 VFW members present at Thursday's meeting, 38 voted in favor of continued negotiations, said post adjutant David Catania.

Catania is also a resident of the Wheatfield community and treasurer of Montgomery Road Citizens for Responsible Growth, which opposes commercial development there. He said the VFW has received many offers to purchase the land but has always refused.

"This one would have been rejected, too, but it's for an elementary school for the community," he said.

Buehler said schools representatives suggested several different scenarios, which would use up to 12 acres of the group's property.

Members are concerned, however, about the distance between their building and the new school. In Howard County, no one can obtain a liquor license for an establishment within 500 feet of a public school building, although existing businesses should not be affected if a new school opens within that buffer.

VFW leaders want to ensure that the proximity of the school would not threaten the post's license for any reason, Buehler said.

The post has had a building on that location for more than 40 years, Buehler said. The grounds are used for post activities and an over-40 softball league. Outside groups also rent the facilities for events.

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