Request for money rejected

June 15, 1995|By Frank Langfitt and John Morris | Frank Langfitt and John Morris,Sun Staff Writers

In an unusual move yesterday, state officials rejected a request by Anne Arundel County for $300,000 to pay for a small park to help revitalize an aging Annapolis suburb.

Members of the state Board of Public Works said they found the price too high for the 2.8 acres. Members also questioned the logic of buying the property, which largely can't be developed because most of it lies in a flood plain and contains steep banks.

"If they're not able to build on that, why are we buying it for $300,000?" asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who opposed the purchase.

State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein also questioned the price. "There's been a for sale sign probably on this property for 10 years," said Mr. Goldstein, who visited the site this week. "I'm uncomfortable with it."

The governor and the comptroller hold two of three seats on the board. The third member, state Treasurer Lucille Maurer, did not oppose the project.

Faced with such formidable opposition, the Department of Natural Resources, which administers the program, withdrew the request, leaving the county to search for a new way to finance the purchase.

County officials, who bought the land next to a shopping center last year in hopes of being reimbursed, said they were surprised by the rejection and defended their decision.

Tom Andrews, the county executive's chief adviser on environmental matters, said the property is ideal for preservation through the state's Program Open Space. Under the program, the board doles out millions of dollars annually to help counties purchase open space to protect land for recreation, natural resources and wildlife management.

"To me this was a no-brainer," said Mr. Andrews. "That's precisely the kind of thing we ought to be doing. There is more to open space than ball fields and farms."

The property sits at the core of an heavily urbanized commercial district and includes the last stand of trees in the Parole Town Center, which is 1,500 acres of parking lots, roads and shopping centers, Mr. Andrews said. That stand sits largely on three-quarters of an acre planned for a fast-food restaurant, he said.

Michael J. Nelson, state deputy assistant secretary for public lands and forestry, said he could not recall the last time the board had rejected such a request outright. Mr. Nelson said the state warned county officials there was some risk of rejection based on the purchase price.

Thomas Mullenix, the county's assistant financial officer, said the government will have to take money from another part of its budget to cover the purchase.

"Since the owner already has his check, we'll have to look for other county funds to back up that check," Mr. Mullenix said. "It's not a serious problem. It's an inconvenience."

The county's operating budget for fiscal year 1996 is $733.2 million.

Richard Josephson, county chief of land use and facility planning, attributed the high price to the fact that a portion of the land could be developed.

County officials cited an appraisal by Samuel T. Lewis, a local firm, that estimated the value of the developable land at $190,000 and that of the remaining two acres at slightly less than $80,000.

H. Grant Dehart, director of the state open space program, said it is not unusual for a county to purchase largely undevelopable land to protect a small part of it but that jurisdictions usually spend less per acre on such acquisitions and do not often buy in densely developed areas.

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