Truce In Battle Over Army Base

Developers And Residents Reach Compromise On Contested Terrain

#3 News Story

December 30, 1990|By Gary Gately

Talk about a prime piece of land -- the developers could hardly keep from gushing.

Soon after they found out the land might be up for grabs, they had their multicolored glossies and maps at the ready, full of visions for the future of Fort Meade: thousands of new homes, a town center, millions of square feet of office space, a college campus, enough stores to fill a good-size mall, even an artificial lake and marina.

And all of this was to be on 9,000 acres nestled between Baltimore and Washington, convenient to major highways, railways and an international airport.

To be sure, the surplus acreage at Fort Meade, the old Army base in Odenton, seemed a thing of beauty that tantalized developers for miles around.

The people of Odenton, however, saw another sort of beauty entirely in the rolling fields, forests and marsh lands.

There, residents saw a sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife; a treasure trove of artifacts, ruins and some 30 graveyards dating to Indian settlers; a green oasis amid rampant suburban sprawl and congested roadways; and a rare piece of environmentally sensitive land with two major rivers running through it.

For more than a year, the fate of the old Army base was the focus of a battle that reached from Fort Meade meeting halls to lawmakers' offices in three counties, the State House and Capitol Hill.

Army officials consistently said they wanted the highest price possible for the land, which became available under a national base-realignment plan to reduce the number of domestic military bases. The Army's estimates on the land's potential value, which went as high as $450 million, shrank considerably last spring, when Army officials admitted they had exaggerated and amended the "fair market value" to $130 million.

The Army ran into a stone wall of opposition from residents, county and state lawmakers, and Maryland's entire congressional delegation. For their part, members of the County Council that sat until December repeatedly vowed to resist attempts to loosen building restrictions designed to stave off any major development at the base.

Opponents had consistently argued that large-scale development would shatter years of planning aimed at curbing sprawl, devastate the environment and perhaps put a town squarely on top of unexploded ordnance and toxic waste scattered about the base.

After a year of study and meetings, the Fort Meade Coordinating Council, a committee of government and civic leaders appointed by then-County Executive O. James Lighthizer and Congressman Tom McMillen, recommended last spring that all 9,000 acres be preserved.

Then, in July, Maryland's congressional delegation compromised, attempting to balance the Army's right to reap a reasonable profit against residents' desires to keep Meade green.

The compromise between the Maryland delegation and the Bush administration, included as part of a military construction appropriations bill, transfers 7,600 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand the adjoining Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

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