Arundel border dispute erupts

Annapolis draws fire with talk of annexing Parole Plaza center

Tax revenue at issue

June 25, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County leaders have accused Annapolis officials of launching a sneak attack against them. The target: a local shopping center rich with potential as a source of taxes.

City officials acknowledged quietly engaging in annexation talks with the owner of Parole Plaza, a shopping center on the county side of the city line, but they played down the episode. County leaders were not amused.

"I was caught completely off guard," County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday as she left a breakfast attended by Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson. "I was trying to contain my anger."

In a county where laws limit the amount taxes can be increased, each new business is coveted as a source of revenue. So several county leaders were affronted by the idea that city officials would try to annex the prime shopping center, which is being redeveloped.

"I don't understand what motivated this," said County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, who represents Annapolis. "This is really a betrayal."

City leaders said the the talks were preliminary, but they didn't apologize for trying to snap up the property. They said it was a logical move for officials in the state capital, where government agencies occupy land and use services without contributing to the tax base.

"Annexation is certainly going to be something we consider," said Johnson. "We are looking at 40 percent of our property that's tax-exempt. We get no other money. We have to find that somewhere."

Both sides fear the mall will reignite a battle over border properties that only recently quieted down.

Last year, the city and the county wrestled all the way to the state's highest court over Annapolis' annexation of 103 acres on the city's southwestern edge. The city won. There have been three other annexations in the past five years, and another, involving 50 acres of waterfront property, is under consideration.

To begin the process, property owners must request annexation. If it agrees with state law, the city council then must consider it.

Johnson said his staff is in regular contact with landowners along the city's border to gauge interest in joining the city.

The idea of losing this parcel has the county peeved.

This week, Parole Plaza's owner revealed plans to anchor the redeveloped 33-acre shopping center on Route 2 with a Wal-Mart. The giant retailer is a departure from the county's vision for the heart of Parole, one of three areas designated as future county hubs.

"It's the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time," Samorajczyk said.

With the potential for opposition to Wal-Mart, the possibility of annexation would give the property owner leverage to push through his plans. If the county threatens opposition, he can ask to join the city.

Carl Freedman, the New Jersey developer who owns the land, could not be reached yesterday.

County officials said he has begun playing the county against the city.

"He asked Mrs. Owens point-blank if she would be obstructive," said Marvin Bond, her chief of staff. "He was weighing his options."

Johnson said that should not be a major concern. He said Annapolis will use the same planning guidelines to consider the the proposed Wal-Mart that the county uses.

As for the potential for strained relations between the two governments, the mayor placed that in county hands.

Last week, he said, he learned that the county had invited a major city business to consider relocating to the David Taylor Research Center, which is on county land.

"It's always a two-way street," he said.

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