Larson keeps vultures away from Navy's farm

Comment

April 20, 1997|By BRIAN SULLAM

IF NAVAL ACADEMY Superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson can maintain the school's 865-acre Gambrills farm as a green oasis, he should receive a "hero of the county" designation.

Under normal circumstances, such a large expanse of open land acts like a vacuum, filling up with houses, shopping centers and other development.

As soon a word leaked out late last month that the Academy wanted to close its 300-cow dairy operation in western Anne Arundel County, builders, golf course promoters and others inundated the superintendent's office with phone calls.

"They were like vultures," said Capt. Tom Jurkowsky, who fielded a number of the calls.

They figured that Admiral Larson would behave like many other county landowners, enticed by riches from development offers. The callers didn't want this prime piece of land to slip away.

Steward of the land

But the superintendent does not have dollar signs dancing in his head. Instead, he feels the academy must be a steward of the land and keep it pastoral.

Sure, Admiral Larson isn't the "owner," like a family or a corporation that would own a farm. Some cynics may dismiss his effort to preserve the property as an easy gesture, but that charge doesn't hold up.

The superintendent is obligated to look out for the interests of the naval institution. This means trying to minimize costs and maximize returns on any possible revenue source.

By shutting the dairy, Admiral Larson is reducing the costs of providing the midshipmen with milk by about $17,000 a year.

To generate revenue, he has a number of options, ranging from trying to sell the dairy so that the proceeds would flow into the academy's coffers to leasing it out for any number of activities.

Admiral Larson, in comments to the Gambrills community, said he wanted to keep the land as it is.

Equestrian center?

If there are farmers willing to continue the dairy operation, he will lease the farm to them. If someone wants to lease the fields, the superintendent is prepared to negotiate a deal. He even said that the academy would enter into an agreement with the county to allow 4-H and others to use the farm for their activities or to establish an equestrian center.

The bottom line for him seems to be that the farm should stay the way it is.

This position is politically risky because Admiral Larson serves a number of masters in the Navy and Congress who have conflicting notions of what should be done with the farm.

Some of his colleagues in the Navy would like nothing more than to create an exclusive golf course for active and retired officers.

Given current infatuation in some quarters of Capitol Hill with selling off federal assets -- from petroleum reserves to national parks -- there will be considerble pressure on Admiral Larson to relinquish control of the farm. Under those circumstances, the General Services Administration would gain control and have wide latitude in disposing of it.

At a time when government officials are exhorted to act more "businesslike" and "entrepreneurial," it is refreshing to see Admiral Larson take a principled stand that the maximum benefit for the academy and surrounding community is to keep the land open and green.

County officials, residents and anyone concerned about the fate of the county's vanishing open space ought to mobilize behind the superintendent. If he can prevail and obligate his successors at the academy to adhere to his promise, Admiral Larson will have done western Anne Arundel a tremendous service.

More from the growth front

The guerrilla war -- fought with road signs rather than guns -- against Anne Arundel's proposed General Development Plan has provided amusing reading for motorists on the Shady Side peninsula.

Even county enforcement crews that have been diligently dismantling the signs admit they chuckle over such messages as: "Entering a Primary Growth Area: Resume Greed," or "Danger: Growth Area Ahead."

Unfortunately, many South County residents who resent the dismantling of the signs have lost sight of the real issue.

The county is not engaged in a conspiracy to prevent them from expressing their point of view. Erecting these signs is illegal and the county is enforcing the law when it takes them down.

There should be a vigorous and informed debate over the far-reaching implications of the new plan. The small band of sign-makers may help to further the debate by engaging people who normally would not think about development and the county's future.

Perhaps while the plan is under consideration, the county and sign-makers might reach an accommodation: Allow a specified number of signs to be posted in certain locations for a definite period of time. As soon as the plan is adopted, they should be removed immediately.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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