Arundel's council knows small stuff


January 07, 2001|By NORRIS WEST

QUESTION: What do you get when you put Catherine M. Vitale, John J. Klocko III and Barbara D. Samorajczyk together on the Anne Arundel County Council to discuss a major business opportunity?

Answer: A big lawyer's joke.

That may be harsh, but that's what it looked like last week when the three lawyer-council members prattled on with small talk about a big project.

Their farce would've been laughable had this not been such a serious matter.

The council members met Tuesday night, ostensibly to decide two zoning bills that could move forward a plan to convert the Navy's David Taylor Research Center into a 46.5-acre high-technology business park.

But Ms. Vitale, Ms. Samorajczyk and Mr. Klocko turned the discussion into folly. They delayed a vote Tuesday, and their tactics could ultimately kill the best economic development opportunity this county has had in years.

If other developers are watching the Anne Arundel County Council on this measure, they will surely head for the hills where more sensible heads prevail. Which is probably what Ms. Samorajczyk would want: She apparently has never met a proposed development that didn't turn her stomach.

People who see the big picture know that David Taylor gives the county a chance to turn bad news into good. When the Navy base was forced to close, 1,400 civilian and military jobs evaporated.

The high-tech office proposal would make things better than ever.

"This is an opportunity from heaven," said Vernon Thompson, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development's assistant secretary for regional development. "There are few opportunities we have of this nature to attract high-tech, clean economic development."

The Navy wants to give the county waterfront property it was forced to abandon. The place was used for submarine and rocket science, and will require about $18 million to clean and prepare for development.

The county, no developer itself, wants to quickly turn the property over to Annapolis Partners. The partnership pledges to invest $250 million into the site to build office space, a hotel and other accessories that would generate tax revenue, well-paying jobs and high-tech prestige for the county.

Baltimore has the Digital Harbor. This would be the Digital Bay, on the Severn River near the Chesapeake.

Annapolis Partners would invest in the cleanup immediately and work toward a development agreement with Anne Arundel, which must be approved by the County Council.

But this is early in the process. And first, the council needs to pass two zoning bills. One would spell out uses for the property, such as office space and child care. The other bill essentially would grandfather the property's footprint at the river's edge to remain in compliance with the county's critical area law.

The bills give broad outlines. They are a start. The big picture, with little that can't be tweaked later.

But Ms. Vitale, Ms. Samorajczyk and Mr. Klocko - the Trivial Trio - made it seem that the county and developer were pulling a Pearl Harbor at the former Navy site.

They are trying to beat the project into submission with a combined 27 amendments they presented "at the 13th hour," as Councilman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. put it.

Councilman Bill Burlison charged that the Trivial Trio was trying to frustrate the majority will on the seven-member council by mounting a filibuster. "We've made the county look very silly this evening, and it's not in the best interest of the county," he said.

His charge rang true.

The council had held a public work session on the bills. There had been a public hearing that lasted until 1:30 a.m. And on Tuesday, the trio sprang 27 amendments on colleagues and talked them to death.

Even if amendments have merit, the issues they present can be discussed later before the developer's final plans are approved.

They spent an hour peppering county Planning and Code Enforcement officials about whether the bill's child care provisions were tough enough, knowing full well that the state's Child Care Administration has rigorous rules about providing adequate space for kids. One hour for the first of 27 last-minute amendments!

Here's a sample from Ms. Samorajczyk:

"One of the reasons we've been told that the developers want to construct 730,000 square feet is that they want to create a first-class facility and have large offices in beautiful space for their employees. Are they going to put their employees in beautiful space and put their children in inhumane spaces?" Imagine 4 1/2 hours of this nonsense.

If that's not enough, there's more coming. Other similarly worthwhile amendments will be presented on Jan. 16.

As you wait, time and money are wasting - the Navy's time, the developer's time and the county's money. Your tax dollars are keeping a largely useless David Taylor center running. You're paying about $140,000 a month for three council members to act with absurd and trivial irresponsibility.

Norris P. West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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