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Builder's Offer Prompts Skepticism

Some Resent Money For Frederick School

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2004; Page C01

When Marvin E. Ausherman's father began building homes in Frederick nearly 55 years ago, the city gladly built just about everything else necessary to support the growing neighborhoods: schools, streets, sidewalks, water and sewer lines. Builders such as his late father, Ernest, were admired for their work.

Now, after thousands of Ausherman homes have sprung up around the city and Frederick County, the second-generation developer elicits a different reaction when he pitches new housing projects to public officials.

Barbara Wilson, who lives next to the Linton farm with her husband, Harry, described the developer's proposal to add on to the high school as a bribe. "A normal person can't go out and offer $10 million to get something passed," she said. "But that's basically what he's doing." (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

"Today, I go into the meetings, they put their heads down. They shake their heads," Marvin Ausherman said. "They look at what I'm doing to the county as something harmful, and I'm doing the same thing we've been doing for 50 years."

Nothing illustrates better the way the ground has shifted for developers than Ausherman's latest proposal. Eager to move forward on a 763-dwelling development a few miles south of the city, Ausherman has offered to fund the construction of an approximately $8 million addition to a high school that opened in 2003.

He had little choice: Under a county planning ordinance designed to ensure that new development will have adequate water, roads, sewers and schools, Ausherman's plan to develop the property would have died. Yet, to his surprise, some in the community have not offered thanks for a privately funded, 350-seat school addition. Some have even called his proposal a bribe.

"When I first heard that comment, I was hurt," Ausherman said. "It was insulting to me."

Ausherman's offer, now in the hands of the Board of Education, has revealed an unforeseen quirk in an important planning ordinance and reopened the wounds over a bitterly contested decision by the Frederick Board of County Commissioners earlier this year to rezone the property, known as the Linton farm. It also has highlighted the growing tendency to exact more concessions from developers.

"This is new, as far as buying a school," fellow developer Farhad Memarsadeghi said. "Probably he has no other choice. But I think it's good for the county, no doubt, because he's building a school."

Memarsadeghi, owner of Admar Custom Homes, now is offering to set aside twice as much water as usual for each of about 200 new homes he has proposed building in Middletown, where questions of adequate water supplies caused state environmental officials to impose a temporary building moratorium.

"I think, unfortunately, the trend has been more and more on the shoulder of developers," Memarsadeghi said.

Michael L. Cady (R), vice president of the county commission, was more blunt.

"I phrase it as 'legalized extortion,' " Cady said. "We're saying, if you want to build a house in Frederick County, you better come prepared to build roads, water, sewer and schools."

Yet even for people who customarily bash developers, it's an offer that can't be refused.

"Every so many leap years, the developers and I agree on something," said John L. "Lennie" Thompson (R), president of the county commission. In January, Thompson -- who ran for office on a slogan chastising developers -- battled rezoning the Linton farm property for housing. Having lost, however, he welcomed Ausherman's proposal to use private funds to build the school addition, even as he remained wary of the details.

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