Council vote on research park nears

Panel to meet early to weigh amendments to zoning measures

Time running out on plan

Land-use objections to Taylor site rehab being considered

Anne Arundel

January 09, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The last two County Council meetings have ended past midnight, and both times, questions about the proposed redevelopment of the former David Taylor Research Center near Annapolis kept everyone up late.

Hoping to avoid another marathon session, the council will start the Jan. 16 meeting at 2 p.m. rather than the usual 7 p.m. Like all council meetings, it will be televised.

Chairwoman Shirley Murphy pushed for the time change so the council would have enough time to vote on two zoning-related bills deemed critical to the former naval research station's rebirth as a privately owned high-tech office park.

On Jan. 2, three council members who oppose the legislation's wording offered so many amendments - 27 - and asked so many questions that the midnight voting deadline came and went without final action on the legislation.

"After the fiasco we had, I decided, How could we make this easier?" said Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat. She said she hopes to wrap up the amendments not voted on last week and possibly vote on the bills themselves by 7 p.m.

Although Murphy said most council members agreed to the starting time, it upset at least one - Republican Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park attorney who will be in court with a client part of that afternoon. Vitale is one of the three members raising concerns about the project.

In a sign that Vitale and her allies are making inroads, Murphy said she and other members of the pro-legislation majority are mulling whether to embrace the concept of two of the amendments.

One would require the developer to count vehicles leaving and entering the facility before the county would permit new phases of the 10-year, $250 million project. Nearby residents worry the traffic would overwhelm neighborhood streets. Developers have said they should not be penalized for traffic caused by other developments; Vitale says a study could pinpoint traffic increases caused by the center itself.

The other amendment being looked at, Murphy said, would require new buildings to be set back at least 50 feet from the Severn River. One of the two bills would allow construction up to the water's edge, as long as a vegetative buffer covered 25 percent of the overall shoreline. Betty Dixon, the county's land-use and environmental program manager, said a 50-foot setback might be impractical because an existing road on the site is so close to the water.

Murphy said that she is not sure how to best address the traffic and setback issues - in the bills or in a subsequent agreement between the county and the developer, Annapolis Partners.

Vitale believes the issues should be included in the legislation and a separate agreement with the developer, to improve the county's ability to enforce the provisions.

Annapolis Partners is a joint venture of Mesirow Stein Real Estate of Chicago and TeleCommunication Systems Inc. of Annapolis. The partnership plans to build a 730,000-square-foot office park, beginning with corporate headquarters for TCS. Plans call for up to 1,958 jobs there. David Taylor employed a maximum of about 1,400 workers.

Vitale, fellow Republican Councilman John J. Klocko III of Crofton and Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat, spent more than four hours at the last council meeting asking county staff members questions about the amendments.

An exasperated County Executive Janet S. Owens called it a filibuster and said they were trying to kill a project she considers beneficial to the county. Vitale, though, noted that the Owens administration and the Navy have yet to agree on terms of transferring the 46-acre property to the county.

Once that happens, the county would likely give the land to the developers, who have said they will spend $19 million building new sewers and other infrastructure. The project is expected to generate $3.5 million a year in tax revenue for the county.

Owens, a Democrat, has said the transfer cannot take place until zoning changes are approved by the council. She has sought to convey a sense of urgency, although the Navy has said only that it wants the issue resolved as "expediently as the process will allow."

If any changes are made to the proposed legislation Jan. 16, a final vote would likely occur Feb. 20 - three days before the end of the bills' legislative life.

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