Bill clears the way for public golf course

But taxpayers group plans a petition drive to repeal measure

April 09, 2001|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

County officials say that the long-promised Pasadena public golf course project is back on track after the General Assembly passed emergency legislation intended to clear the way for construction.

Legislators sought the bill, which broadens the charter of the project's developer - Maryland Economic Development Corp. - after a golf course development company challenged the legality of MEDCO's involvement.

Dennis Callahan, county recreation and parks director, said he expects construction to begin in early July, with completion in fall 2002 - six months behind schedule.

"Everybody's assuming that it's back on track, and we're ready to go," Callahan said.

Although the legislation would allow the project to move forward, the Maryland Taxpayers Association wants to repeal the measure to take its effort to a statewide referendum in the November 2002 election. The group plans to begin its petition drive at 9:45 a.m. today at the State House in Annapolis to collect the required signatures for a spot on the ballot.

Association President Kenneth R. Timmerman claims the legislation gives MEDCO virtually unlimited authority to compete with the private sector and takes the corporation too far from its original mission of developing properties in economically depressed areas. The quasi-public, nonprofit agency was established by the state in 1984 and uses its tax-free bonding authority to finance development projects.

Timmerman said an estimated 1,000 volunteers will begin working to gather the necessary 46,128 signatures to take the issue to referendum by the June 30 deadline. The number represents 3 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last election.

"This has nothing to do with MEDCO's legitimate and original purpose," Timmerman said. "We think this is an outrageous power grab by a small group of individuals at MEDCO and in the state government to vastly expand the powers and scope of MEDCO."

"They want to build golf courses; that's how this thing began," Timmerman said. "But this goes way beyond golf courses; they could set up a car dealership, for crying out loud. It's ridiculous."

Other MEDCO projects include the Rocky Gap golf resort in Allegany County, student housing at Towson University and a building for human genome research in Montgomery County.

At General Assembly committee hearings on the emergency legislation, opponents echoed Timmerman's criticisms.

The 36-hole golf course project off Fort Smallwood Road was put on hold in October after Land Links, a golf course management and development company with three Maryland courses threatened to sue. The move came a week before MEDCO was scheduled to sell $17 million in bonds to finance the 500-acre Compass Pointe course.

The legal threat put the golf course project in jeopardy and raised questions about MEDCO's ability to sell bonds for other projects. To address the problem, Anne Arundel County state legislators pushed for emergency legislation, which is awaiting the governor's signature.

The bill's emergency status means it could go into effect once it is signed, instead of in July, the effective date for other laws passed during a General Assembly session.

The bill leaves it up to MEDCO's board of directors to determine that the private sector has not shown interest in a project and removes language in the corporation's original charter that specified MEDCO was to develop projects on vacant and unused industrial sites.

Callahan said attorneys representing the project investors are reviewing the legislation. T. Rowe Price has committed to $10 million of the project cost, with two other investors raising the remainder of the money.

"We anticipate that they will say, `Yes, this tightens up the loose ends, and if anybody chooses to file a lawsuit it will be frivolous and a waste of time,'" he said.

"We're hoping the bonds will be issued by the first week in July, and construction should begin immediately after that," Callahan said.

The public golf course in Pasadena has encountered repeated delays over the years.

Neighborhoods near the proposed course generally support the project, and at community meetings, County Executive Janet S. Owens has promised to see it through.

Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville is the only county-run course, and Callahan said area golfers need another more affordable option than private clubs.

MEDCO was selected in 1998 as project manager for the Pasadena course during the administration of Republican County Executive John G. Gary.

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