Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

County could get library site if courthouse is nixed

But governor is on board for land swap, mayor says

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Rockville officials continue to push an alternative site for the new District Court building, despite discovering that Montgomery County gets the first option to buy back the old Rockville library if the property does not end up housing a courthouse.

Rockville has been negotiating a deal to buy the old Giant Food property north of Town Square in order to swap the property with the state, giving the city the old library site on which to locate some municipal services.

The library site, directly across Vinson Street from City Hall, could then be used as a new police station.

Those opposed to relocating the courthouse point out that the land swap would require new site plans that would bump the badly needed project from atop the upcoming state funding queue, delaying construction by years and increasing the cost by millions.

The recent discovery that the sales agreement transferring the old library site from the county to the state contains a repurchase option is just another obstacle in a plan that has come too late in the game, some say.

‘‘I wish we would have had this earlier,” Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville, an opponent of the land swap plan, said. ‘‘We could have avoided all of the heartbreak and innuendo involved with this.”

Rockville residents oppose a new courthouse at the old library site, contending the new building would clash with a nearby school, historic homes and pedestrian safety concerns along busy Jefferson Street (Route 28).

Judicial officials and Forehand want the courthouse on the old library site, which is directly across the street from the current District Court. Any relocation could waste $5 million spent on site-specific planning and delay construction until as late as 2018, they have argued.

Mayor Susan R. Hoffmann said the situation has not been torpedoed by the discovery of the repurchase option.

She recently had ‘‘a very productive” conversation with County Executive Isiah ‘‘Ike” Leggett (D), she said.

Leggett’s concerns — possible construction delays and the loss of a favored place in the capital funding queue — have been addressed by commitments made by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) during a phone conversation on Friday, Hoffmann said.

A spokesman for Leggett could not be reached for comment at press time.

But the governor ‘‘was very clear that he wants to see the courthouse on the Giant site,” Hoffmann said.

She said the governor has committed to working to maintain the project’s place in the funding order, obtaining money for redesign costs and even helping the city cover part of the estimated $9 million to $10 million Giant site cost.

O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese confirmed the essence of Hoffmann’s characterization, but said the governor ‘‘is still looking for the local delegation to come to consensus.”

The District 17 delegates have cautiously agreed to advocate for the land swap. Forehand has held firm to her assertion that the library site is the only viable option.

Hoffmann and the City Council updated members of the District 17 delegation on the new developments during an executive session on Monday.

The more the governor pushes for the old Giant site, the more it is in play, Del. James Gilchrist (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville said.

‘‘Of course, how much he’s pushing, we don’t really know,” he said. ‘‘I think it’s still up in the air.”

Forehand said legislators would have to lobby colleagues from other jurisdictions who are eager to make the capital funding their own. She also expressed skepticism about the governor’s ability to push such funding promises through the legislature.

‘‘The governor has no control over that, no control over the capital budget,” Forehand said.