Frederick County commissioners Tuesday night signed off on a plan to build 615 homes on the Westfield South property and agreed to accept an $800,000 payment from developers instead of a school site.
The housing will work hand in hand with office space to attract businesses and jobs, developer representatives said, pointing out that employers look at a wide range of factors as they consider moving to a new area.
"What they want is they want the lifestyle ... where you can live, work, and go shopping and go eat," said Mark Matan, principal at Matan Cos.
Without an attractive blend of homes, shops and workspace, the roughly 210-acre property will continue to sit vacant and unused, he added.
An earlier proposal dedicated the majority of the site to employment and commercial uses and didn't include housing. It also carved out about 25 acres as a school site. With the changes approved Tuesday, however, the developer will contribute $800,000 to the county instead of the land.
Over the years, there have been a number of different visions for the property, which lies between Buckeystown Pike and New Design Road and is bisected by Executive Way. The original proposal for the land included homes, but officials removed the residential component from the plans in 2001, said John Dimitriou, county planner.
Matan asked commissioners to restore housing to their proposal so they could construct 129 single-family houses, 126 townhouses, 60 condominiums and 300 homes in multi-family buildings. County staff estimates the housing development could bring 189 elementary, middle and high school students to the area.
With Tuscarora Elementary School already over capacity, the area needs another elementary school, Dimitriou said.
During discussion about removing the school site from Westfield South plans, Commissioner Paul Smith asked Dimitriou if an alternative location was available.
"We're eliminating a school site, and we still have a need," Smith said.
Dimitriou said one potential site is on the Ballenger Run development, but its appropriateness as a school location has yet to be determined.
The county board voted 4-1 to approve the changes, with Commissioner David Gray opposing the decision.
Smith called the amended plan a "model smart-growth proposal" that would allow people to live near their workplaces.
In the same vote, the county board also decided to rezone about nine acres from limited industrial to mixed use development.
Commissioners on Tuesday also voted in favor of a 25-year agreement with the developer. The development rights and responsibilities agreement guarantees Matan that the property's zoning and other building requirements won't change over the 25-year period.
The document also lays out Matan's responsibilities to build improvements and pay certain fees. School-related fees will total $7.35 million, or about $39,000 per student added by the housing development, estimated Rand Weinberg, an attorney representing Matan. The county will also receive a roughly 22-acre parcel for public use.
The county received written objections from the local nonprofit Friends of Frederick County, which has filed legal challenges to other such agreements with developers. One of the group's assertions was that the term of the agreement was too long.
Gray was the only commissioner to oppose sealing the agreement. Tuesday's action represents the third time county commissioners have passed a DRRA, with the first gaining approval in September.