Anne Arundel Community College officials could place 50 acres of woodland in a conservation easement that would restrict future expansion of the Arnold campus.
Officials told environmental activists last week they will consider placing the property under an easement with the Maryland Environmental Land Trust when the Board of Trustees meets this fall.
The activists, including neighbors who regularly stroll the woods between the college and the Big Vanilla Athletic Center, worry that plans to expand the campus could destroy one of the largest remaining stands of forest on the Broadneck peninsula.
The college is set to begin construction next month on a three-story 64,000-square-foot classroom building for its health and law enforcement curriculums, complete with 247 parking spaces and a pedestrian bridge. The school's master plan proposes another seven buildings, including a fine arts center, on the 65-acre site.
The college has pledged to replant seedlings to replace the trees that are cut down. But Colby Rucker, an Arnold resident and former president of the Severn River Association, said that cannot replace the diversity of a natural forest.
"Development of this site is a true loss," said Mr. Rucker, adding that it includes examples of "old forest" and "outrageous species" like devil's walking-stick, an unusually thorny tree. "Someone needs to be willing to say, 'This site is special and needs to be preserved.' "
Robert J. DiAiso, chairman of the college's board, said AACC is wrongly accused. "Their main concern is that we are destroying a unified forest," he said. "We're not, though we are intruding on it."
Despite the master plan, Mr. DiAiso said the college only needs three new buildings, which can be clustered on 13 acres. The rest could be placed in a limited easement -- one that would expire in 30 years -- if other public agencies do not object. He explained that other agencies may require the college to install access roads or sewer access through the woods.
He said he would want to limit the easement because "nobody can tell what the need will be 25, 50 years from now. I'd be reluctant to tie public officials' hands and their ability to do something with that land that far off."
If the college does not expand on the property next door, it will need to develop a second campus, preferably near Fort Meade, said Theone Rellos, with the college's public information office.