Putters to replace butter? Naval Academy considers sale of dairy farm

October 31, 1993|By Tom Bowman and John Rivera | Tom Bowman and John Rivera,Staff Writers

The U.S. Naval Academy, hoping to capitalize on a piece of prime real estate, is looking into developing its 862-acre dairy farm on the outskirts of Annapolis as two 18-hole golf courses.

The academy last month spent $7,000 for a feasibility study by PGA Tour Golf Course Properties, a Florida company that recommended a $19.5 million semiprivate facility with 2,000 members.

An academy source familiar with the project said officials also are looking into some type of lodging with the proposed development, such as guest quarters, a hotel or motel.

"They're planning on making a big resort out of it," the source said, adding that the academy was "just trying to keep it under wraps."

But academy spokeswoman Karen Myers played down the proposal for a golf course, saying it was one of the "alternative uses" being considered for the dairy farm in Gambrills. She stressed that there are no plans for any type of lodging.

The golf courses are "an option, but we may decide later there are other options," Ms. Myers said. "We're not going forward with anything," she added, saying the academy is only at the "thinking, discussion stage."

In a statement, the academy said that while the dairy is cost-effective, "The farm is over 80 years old and the equipment is aging, so it's only prudent that we consider alternatives, in consultation with community officials, for possible uses of the property in the coming years that will benefit the brigade of midshipmen."

Asked how a golf course would benefit midshipmen, Ms. Myers had no immediate comment.

There already is a U.S. Naval Academy Golf Club, an 18-hole course that opened in 1940 next to Mill Creek and is operated by the Naval Academy Athletic Association.

Anne Arundel County officials said they have held discussions several times with academy officials since the beginning of the year on possible development of the farm, but have not heard any specific proposals and have not seen the feasibility study.

"They took us out one day and showed us the dairy farm," said Walter Chitwood, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks. "They explained they were looking at the farm and what they could do with it."

Plans for a golf course were mentioned. "They said it was something they were thinking about doing," Mr. Chitwood said.

County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, whose district includes the dairy farm, said he strongly opposes any development there. He raised the possibility that if the academy leases the golfing facility to a private concern, the county might be able to retain some control over it.

The property is zoned for agricultural use, and the county would normally require a zoning change for a golf course. But the military is usually exempt from zoning laws on its property.

"If they want to do a military golf course, that's one thing. But if they are going private, I'm going to maintain control over zoning, or at least strive to do it," Mr. Boschert said.

The dairy farm, an academy institution since 1911, borders Routes 3 and 175 and Waugh Chapel Road, northwest of Annapolis. This year the federal government spent about $1.2 million to operate the farm, which supplies milk, cream and fruit juices to the 4,200 midshipmen, academy officials said.

Two years ago, academy officials and members of the Board of Visitors, an advisory group of congressional and presidential appointees, said they were considering closing the farm in an effort to save money.

Norman Myers Sr., president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, said his group went to then-Rep. Tom McMillen, and he believes its intervention helped stop the sale.

"We got them to keep the dairy farm as it is and that's the way the community wants to keep it," Mr. Myers said. "It's been a part of our community for so long. We'd like to see it remain as it is."

With large housing developments at Piney Orchard and Seven Oaks, Odenton is becoming so densly populated that the dairy farm is a welcome reminder of the area's quickly disappearing rural character.

Construction on one course could begin next year, with a planned opening date of Jan. 1, 1996, according to the PGA Properties study. It said the second course could open by 2000.

The detailed feasibility study, obtained by The Sun, estimates that by renting the land to a private company, the academy could earn $1.4 million between 1996 and 2005, through a 2 percent-of-gross-revenue lease payment.

Both courses could be constructed with "minimal disturbance to existing terrain," the study said, leaving open the possibility of using the existing farm structures for maintenance equipment, storage and servicing. There are several dozen farm buildings, sheds and dwellings on the property.

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