Former council member defends land purchases


June 06, 1999

A recent poll, reported in The Sun May 19, stated that the news business always wants to be its own judge and jury. The basic summary was that news-gathering organizations often don't deserve the public's confidence. H. Jackson Brown Jr. worded it differently when giving advice to his college-bound son in "Life's Little Instruction Book": When talking to the press, he wrote, remember it always has the last word.

With that in mind, and with some trepidation, I would like to share the facts as I know them regarding the purchase of property along Brock Bridge Road for a police substation and recreational facility. At the time of the purchase, I was serving on the Anne Arundel County Council representing Councilmanic District 4, the area where the purchase was made, and I supported the purchase.

Fact: A critical shortage of recreational and park facilities in western Anne Arundel County has existed for a long time.

Records show that the purchase of land for such facilities has been on many council agendas over the years. I served on a special recreation and parks committee in 1992, when State Sen. Robert R. Neall was county executive. The committee was co-chaired by former Del. Marsha G. Perry and Del. David Boschert, a former councilman. Its report showed the need for recreational facilities in West County, including the Maryland City area. Efforts to correct that situation have been in the works ever since. The purchase of the land was the culmination of those efforts.

Fact: A critical need still exists for additional police presence in western Anne Arundel.

Although the population in Maryland City, Jessup, Laurel Highlands, Russett and Bacontown is approaching 30,000 people, many people living there feel estranged from the rest of the county. Area crime includes drug trafficking, prostitution, armed robbery and vehicle theft. In addition, the Maryland House of Correction, Reformatory for Women, Patuxent Institute and the District of Columbia Children's Center are located near these communities. These facilities, housing about 8,000 inmates, are a constant concern to citizens living in the corridor.

For the past four years, public safety and human service needs of residents in the area were severe enough to initiate many meetings in response to hundreds of calls from constituents. Then-Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, his staff and I met with residents and others concerned, such as the commander of the Western District Police Station and his officers, along with police from Laurel and Howard County, which borders on the area.

We also met with representatives of county departments of health, human services, social services, recreation and parks, and land use and environment. In addition, private organizations and several businesses actively participated in these meetings. As a result, a new library was built in Russett, a new fire station is near completion and two county properties were conveyed to the Maryland City Civic Association for use by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The decision to purchase the land was made only after long and hard deliberation of many people and organizations.

Fact: The Western District Police Station is overcrowded and must be expanded or replaced. A substation would alleviate this situation by locating it along Brock Bridge Road.

The Police Department testified before the council in support of a capital project to expand the Western District Police Station to help alleviate overcrowded conditions. The concept plan would have some detectives and police officers relocate to the substation, which would then provide better coverage west of Baltimore-Washington Parkway, where citizens have asked repeatedly for enhanced protection.

Fact: Land acquisition money was set aside by the council and was available to purchase property legally.

The perception in the media is of wrongdoing in the acquisition of land on the part of the Gary administration. The council provided funds for the acquisition during the fiscal year 1999 budget deliberations. My understanding is that appraisal of the property had not been completed prior to budget hearings, so the purchase and negotiations could not be discussed before the council. I don't believe there was an intent to deceive or to do anything illegal. The county now owns an excellent, ideally located parcel that can house a police substation and recreational facilities.

Fact: Impact fees generated from Laurel Park are available to build a police substation.

Historically, the county receives about $375,000 annually in impact fees from the Laurel racetrack. State law requires that these funds be used for facilities and services within 3 miles of the track. This could help in the construction of a police substation, as they did in helping build the Maryland City branch library and fire station.

Fact: The Small Area Planning Committee for Maryland City-Jessup is working to develop a comprehensive plan for the area.

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