Frederick aldermen press developer on school overcrowding -- Gazette.Net


A plan to build 300 homes on nearly 49 acres of annexed farmland ran into tough questioning Wednesday from the Frederick Board of Aldermen which raised concerns about who would pay for possible school overcrowding.

The developer, Christopher’s Crossing LLC, is asking the five aldermen for permission to build no more than 300 single-family homes and townhouses on land known as the Bargtis/Lasick-Rallas properties, located near Walter Martz and Christopher’s Crossing roads, west of U.S. 15.

If the annexation is approved, construction would start in 2015.

Developers first unveiled their plans to the mayor and aldermen at a Feb. 27 workshop, and were asked to come back for further discussions on the development’s impact on schools and roads in the area.

But on Wednesday the exchange grew heated when David Severn, the attorney representing Christopher’s Crossing, balked at the continued questioning by the aldermen.

Alderman Michael O’Connor (D) wanted a guarantee in the annexation agreement that if the schools in the area are overcrowded and the developer wants to start building homes, the company would agree to pay a special “school construction fee.”

Paying the fee to the city allows the developer to build near overcrowded schools. If the developer does not pay the fee, the company must wait three years to build.

Although Victor White, the project manager, said they would be paying the fee to move forward, Severn said there was no guarantee.

But O’Connor fired back, asking Severn: “Would you prefer that we just not ask any questions?”

Severn said he “respected” the rights of the aldermen to ask questions, but that development of the property has been planned for at least a year.

“I’m not coming here with something way out of left field,” he said. “We prepared these documents a year ago. We met every single requirement.”

O’Connor said the annexation process can be complicated, and questions need to be answered, such as school overcrowding.

Alderman Carol Krimm (D) also had questions on school overcrowding.

“I think what concerns me about this particular annexation now is that these children will be going to Yellow Springs [Elementary School] which is already overcrowded,” Krimm said.

Ray Barnes, executive director of the school system’s Facilities Services Division, said that an additional elementary school is planned for the area.

Portable classrooms at Yellow Springs and redistricting to other schools is also an option, until the new “North Frederick City” school opens in 2019, Barnes said.

Design of that school is slated to begin in fiscal 2017.

Barnes said he is confident there are plans to relieve overcrowding at the elementary school.

“We have a good handle on the elementary school, but with the middle and high school, I don’t have that same level of confidence,” he said.

Children from the development will attend Yellow Springs Elementary, Monocacy Middle and Gov. Thomas Johnson High schools, according to documents from Frederick County Public Schools.

The proposed development would add 69 elementary school students, 36 middle school students and 41 high school students.

Currently, Yellow Springs Elementary is at 101 percent state rated capacity; Monocacy Middle is at 88 percent; and Thomas Johnson is at 71 percent.

But those numbers are expected to jump as a result of the new development.

“The additional students from Bartgis/Lasick-Rallas annexation will add to the enrollment growths at all three schools,” the school system documents said.

“The impact of additional students will be particularly felt at both Yellow Springs [elementary] and Monocacy [middle].... These students could bring the enrollment at Yellow Springs ES to 900 students in 2012 (207 percent of state-rated capacity) and at Monocacy MS to 1,238 (144 state-rated capacity),” the documents said.

The single-family homes in the Christopher’s Crossing development are expected to be priced at $425,000, according to a 29-page economic and fiscal impact report conducted by the Sage Policy Group Inc., a Baltimore-based economic consulting firm serving on the project.

The townhouses are estimated to cost $305,000 with a garage and $275,000 without a garage, the report said.

There would also be 408 private sector jobs to be filled during the four-year construction phase.

“A substantial portion of the jobs created in the county will benefit residents of the city of Frederick,” the report said.

After construction, the development will bring in $650,000 annually in city taxes, $1.78 million in county taxes and $1.98 million in state taxes.

But the cost of providing city services such as police, snow and trash removal to the residents of the development would be about $534,753 annually, the report said.

If approved and construction begins, it will join two other annexations in the northern part of the city.

Last year, the aldermen annexed the 302.67-acre Keller property at the intersection of Yellow Springs, Rocky Springs and Walter Martz roads, for 850 homes.

In 2009, aldermen annexed 285 acres of the Crum property from the county for the construction of 1,200 homes and a mix of businesses. The property sits west of U.S. 15, south of Sunday’s Lane and north of Willowbrook Road.

The city last year also annexed another 252.76 acres that sit adjacent to the 285 acres annexed in 2009. However, the additional land is not slated for more homes, with the 1,200 homes now spread across both properties.