Land sale in Md. City sparks ire

Property was to be site of police station, recreation space

`Now it's gone again.'

Some questioning acquisition of land from campaign donor

May 02, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Residents in the westernmost parts of Anne Arundel County are disappointed that County Executive Janet S. Owens wants to sell a piece of land her predecessor bought for a police substation and recreation space in Maryland City.

Although some of the newly elected officials in county government are calling the $1 million land transaction "wasteful" and say the deal violated long-practiced procedures for acquiring land, the way Maryland City and Laurel residents see it, they once again are being handed off as a political football.

"I'm very dismayed about the way this has played out," said Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association. "The community has been fighting 35 years for this. This is not brand new. In 1970, they were going to put a police station in; now it's gone again."

The 7-acre parcel along Brock Bridge Road was bought from a prominent developer who contributed several thousand dollars to former County Executive John G. Gary's failed re-election bid, according to campaign records. Nicholas Andrew and relatives at his Severna Park address also donated $2,200 to Owens' campaign fund after Gary lost to her.

Members of the new Democratic administration say that the weedy property littered with asphalt, empty drums, tires and debris was overpriced, that the police substation is not needed and that the entire transaction was a mistake.

But to the residents who say they feel cut off from the rest of the county by Fort Meade and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the deal would have brought closer at hand services the rest of the county takes for granted.

"Our community was very much looking forward to getting a substation," said Jeanne Mignon, a Russett resident. "This is the fastest-growing area of the county.

"If you want the economic part of growth, you have to balance that with the public safety."

Chief doesn't see need

The county's new police chief, P. Thomas Shanahan, says the substation is not needed. Police have promised to dedicate more patrol cars to the area instead.

"The election-month purchase of that property appears precipitous and wasteful," agreed County Councilman Bill D. Burlison, a Democrat who came into office at the same time as Owens. "The matter needed more study and review than it received."

Burlison said he would support Owens' idea to sell the property if the county could get a reasonable offer. If not, "I would think some use could be found for it," he said.

But former County Councilman Bert L. Rice said officials from both the Police Department and parks and recreation were behind Gary's plan for the substation. He said the lack of recreation space in the community is "woeful" and the substation is "essential" because drugs, prostitution and loitering continue to be problems along Route 198.

"For the police to say now that it was never needed is not true," said Rice, a Republican. "When the police chief asks for something, we take it seriously. I thought this substation was absolutely essential."

Rice conceded that the transaction was hasty, but the decision was not.

"We had discussed this substation before," he said. "We've been looking for some kind of police presence. I think strong consideration should be given to retaining that property. To say it was just a land deal was just nonsense."

Growth is expected

Although the western part of the county has been targeted for growth, and three developments with several thousand homes each are bringing new residents to the county, services have lagged. The county last year moved the library from a storefront it rented for 20 years to a permanent home, and a new fire station soon will be completed.

Residents say they will continue fighting on the political gridiron.

"They're complaining about politics, well, now we're doing it again," Smallwood said. "To sell that land is very foolish. That's a fine piece of real estate. How it was bought and who bought it is irrelevant."

Pub Date: 5/02/99

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