A threat of legal action has put the county's long-promised Pasadena golf course on hold, prompting its main developer to back out of the project and delaying a $17 million bond sale that was to finance it.
The apparent unraveling of the project less than two weeks before the bond sale was to have taken place has prompted legislators to consider an emergency bill in the General Assembly session to put the project back on course.
The legal threat came from a golf course development company, which has maintained that the participation of the project developer, Maryland Economic Development Corp., is illegal.
MEDCO is a quasi-public, nonprofit agency established by the state in 1984 to manage economic development projects.
One of its most well-known efforts is the Rocky Gap hotel and conference center near Cumberland.
In a letter to MEDCO, Land Links, a golf course management and development company that owns three courses in Maryland, including one in Edgewater, said the agency would be violating its charter if it proceeded with the bond sale.
Land Links said MEDCO is limited to developing properties in economically depressed areas where the private sector has shown no interest.
Land Links' counsel said in an Oct. 16 letter that the company would move to block the bond sale if MEDCO proceeded with the project.
"To my complete and utter amazement, MEDCO withdrew from the project," said Dennis Callahan, the county's director of recreation and parks. "That was the biggest shock of all, because these were the people who were leading the project for us."
Callahan said MEDCO was selected on the basis of its record of putting together other projects that combined public and private resources, in particular Rocky Gap.
Two courses planned
At stake for the county are two 18-holepublic golf courses that are planned for 500 acres off Fort Smallwood Road. The project would be known as Compass Pointe.
The latest roadblock for the project, which has been on and off the books through three county administrations, surfaced in October, less than two weeks before MEDCO was scheduled to sell $17 million in bonds to finance the project. Construction was to have begun last month.
Del. Michael E. Busch, a District 30 Democrat from Annapolis, said leading state lawmakers - including the speaker of the House of Delegates and the president of the Senate - and the governor's office appear to favor legislation that would broaden MEDCO'S authority.
The Assembly convenes next month, and Busch said the legislators might push for emergency passage, which could allow such a measure to take effect as early as February.
"They understand there's a structural problem, and they've asked MEDCO to take a look at what will correct the structural problem," said Busch, who in addition to his role as a legislator is a recreation programs supervisor with the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.
"MEDCO has been a very important agency for the state," he said. "They take on other projects that otherwise wouldn't get bonding authority through the state."
Hans F. Meyer, MEDCO's executive director, refused to discuss the county's golf course project. "I'm not going to discuss legal matters or fiduciary matters in the newspaper," he said.
Charlie Birney, a managing director with Land Links, which owns South River Golf Links in Edgewater and raised objections to the Pasadena course two years ago, said MEDCO should not be a part of the project.
"The private sector would be happy to develop that site," said Birney, whose company also owns Queenstown Harbor Golf Links in Queen Anne's County and Potomac Ridge Golf Links in Prince George's. He said the 36-hole Pasadena course would be government--sponsored competition and isn't in line with MEDCO's mission.
"It would be hard to describe the northern part of Anne Arundel County as being under economic distress," he said, "and I'd like to know what the proposed project would do to solve that."
Callahan said he doesn't see the public Compass Pointe course as competition to courses such as South River Golf Links. "They have carved out a very successful niche for upscale, relatively expensive rounds of golf," he said.
During summer, the peak season, South River Golf Links charges $72 for an 18-hole round on the weekend and $52 during the week, according to its pro shop. Callahan said a round at Compass Pointe might cost about $45.