Jail sale called benefit for area

Cedar Knolls long worried residents

May 09, 1999|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Residents of western Anne Arundel County have dark memories of the former detention center called Cedar Knolls, the longtime repository for convicted juveniles from Washington, which owned the center.

Youths regularly escaped out the windows of the minimum-security center -- 132 during one particularly egregious four-month stretch -- and fled through the yards and streets of terrified neighbors.

So last week's sale of the 106-acre property to a commercial real estate firm is being hailed by county officials and residents as outstanding news. Residents get rid of an unwelcome guest and the county gains the tax dollars spurred by the economic development.

Constellation Energy Group's real estate subsidiary purchased the site from the District of Columbia for $1.8 million, closing the book on the troubled center that the county considered an unwelcome guest.

Anne Arundel County officials -- long supportive of Constellation's 10-year effort to purchase Cedar Knolls -- had in recent months met with officials in District of Columbia government and the mayor's office in an effort to encourage them to release the property.

"There's no question it's a good thing," said Bill Badger, senior vice president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. "It's a great opportunity for Constellation and Anne Arundel County."

Cedar Knolls, which closed in 1993, is in a cluster of Washington-owned detention facilities around Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, near the National Security Agency headquarters. Forest Haven, a former institution for the mentally retarded, is a decaying spread of 21 buildings. Oak Hill youth detention center, which used to send its overflow inmates to Cedar Knoll, is looking to expand into the Forest Haven site.

Maryland City volunteer fire chief Ray Smallwood, who has pushed for years to close Cedar Knolls, Forest Haven and Oak Hill, welcomed the news of the Cedar Knolls sale, but said, "We still have a few more we'd like to get rid of. We'll just keep chopping, and pretty soon we'll get the whole tree."

Smallwood said County Executive Janet S. Owens has promised to let him give her a tour of the Forest Haven and Oak Hill properties and has expressed interest in gaining more county control of the land.

"It makes the community, the state of Maryland and Anne Arundel County a better place if we can get it out of [the District's] control and into the hands of people who have the welfare of the community at interest," Smallwood said.

He said Cedar Knolls, which Washington opened in the 1950s, "caused us nothing but grief."

Between 1990 and 1992, 177 youths, some of them convicted of murder and rape, escaped from Cedar Knolls. Many would walk through neighborhoods and back yards until they found a highway.

Constellation plans to demolish the 20 buildings of the detention facility and create as much as $100 million worth of space for offices and other uses. Constellation owns the 175-acre National Business Park, adjacent to Cedar Knoll. That 560,000-square-foot park has become an attractive location for NSA offices, defense contractors and a growing number of companies doing business with the huge eavesdropping, code-breaking agency.

Expanding the National Business Park into the Cedar Knolls site will help turn the area into a hub of high-technology industry, Badger said. Constellation estimates it can use up to 1 million square feet of space for offices and other uses on the Cedar Knolls site.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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