Intense community opposition likely will keep any major commercial development from land near Tipton Army Airfield at Fort Meade, a spokesman for County Executive Robert R. Neall said yesterday.
The executive had suggested that one way the county could afford to run Tipton as a self-supporting, general aviation airport would be to lease a 470-acre parcel to businesses and reap property and business taxes.
But a spokesman said yesterday the county will take over the airport only if it can support itself by a means acceptable to the community.
"We don't have any intention of overdeveloping Odenton," saidMichael G. Leahy, Neall's policy and legal adviser.
Neall proposed the idea in a letter to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., asking her to delay legislation to transfer the 470-acre parcel to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and protect it from development. The parcel west of Tipton is part of 1,400 acres of surplus Fort Meade land whose fate remains in question. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center already has received 7,600 acres of the9,000 acres declared surplus by the Department of Defense.
By delaying the legislation, Neall wrote, county officials could determine the costs of converting Tipton to a general aviation airport that would serve central Maryland. If that required taxpayer subsidies, whichthe executive has said he wants to avoid, Neall told the senator he would consider developing the 470-acre parcel to help support the airport.
General aviation airports throughout the country often finance themselves by leasing nearby land to businesses, he said.
He added, however, that his request for more time "neither damages the 470acres in question nor does it preclude its eventual disposition to the Department of the Interior if such a course is judged most appropriate."
Mikulski's spokesman, John Steele, said the senator has notmade any decisions on Neall's request
Members of the Fort Meade Coordinating Council -- which recommended preserving the entire 9,000 acres of surplus land and leaving Tipton as is, under county control -- say they never intended further development or airport expansion.
"That is not what any of us want. That's not what the community wants there," said Delegate Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton, a member of thecouncil, which includes politicians, residents and environmentalists. "The whole goal always has been to get the 9,000 acres turned over to Fish and Wildlife. It's better to have an ex-airfield than to lose470 acres to commercial development."
Council chairman Lt. Col. Alfred Shehab said he fears any new development would set a precedent.
"It's possible some future county administration may not feel beholden on holding the line on (development)," he said.
Since federal officials already have turned over so much of the Meade land to theresearch center, new commercial development would be incompatible and disturb wildlife, environmentalists say.
Besides, said Annapolisresident and environmentalist Jim Martin, "The county should not be in the business of running an airfield. The people who fly small airplanes are not the majority of Anne Arundel County."
The land wouldbe better used as parkland, said council vice chairman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, who represents that part of the county. He said he would oppose any further development.
County officials have notyet determined how much expansion would be needed to keep the airport self-supporting.
It could mean leasing part of the 230-acre airport to support services, such as a fueling facility, repair service and more hangars, Leahy said. Preliminary estimates show that in most cases, self-supporting general aviation airports house at least 200 to 250 planes. The Army now spends $2 million a year to run the 230-acre airport, home to Army and Navy flying clubs and private planes.
Studies predict the need for general aviation airports in central Maryland will continue to grow, in part to relieve pressure on Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Leahy said. Appropriate sites, headded, are becoming harder to find.
The national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based in Frederick, has been working for moregeneral aviation airports in the state.
"Many of the smaller airports in the state and across the country are closing," said Cheri Farha, association spokesman. "We definitely want to see (Tipton) converted to civilian use."