Arundel near deal on Taylor project

review panel split

Controversy surrounds major redevelopment of former Navy site

`It has been a tedious process'

April 11, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The concrete piers that front the former David Taylor Research Center offer a stunning view of sailboats and water taxis approaching Annapolis. Not far down the Severn River, the arc of the Naval Academy Bridge frames lush riverbanks and elegant waterside homes.

This prime waterfront acreage is the focus of an ambitious redevelopment plan: recasting the concrete buildings of the Navy facility into a $250 million office complex, the biggest commercial development along Anne Arundel County's shoreline.

Developers and county officials hope to lure close to 2,000 high-tech professionals to the 46-acre tract, where engineers once tested designs for Navy ships and submarines.

The redevelopment project, which would significantly alter Annapolis' waterfront scene, has been in the works for nearly a decade.

Now, after years of tense negotiations with the development partnership, Navy officials and area residents, the county is wrapping up the last details.

"It's a wonderful place to do a marquee-quality project," said Roy W. Kienitz, state secretary of planning. "It is so visible." County Executive Janet S. Owens hopes to replace hundreds of jobs that were lost when the research center closed in 1999. And she is eager to seal a deal with Annapolis Partners LLC, the development team, so she can promote the economic benefits during her re-election campaign this year.

"The county entered into this journey to create job opportunities," Owens said. "My vision is to keep high-tech, high-paying jobs in the county."

The deal with Annapolis Partners, a group that includes local executive Maurice B. Tose and Mesirow Stein Real Estate Inc. of Chicago, hinges on a redevelopment agreement that a committee of residents and business leaders is set to review at a meeting tonight.

The agreement, as well as legislation that would transfer the land to developers, is scheduled for discussion before the County Council next month.

Exactly how much money developers will pay the county for the property is being negotiated, but whatever the county receives will be spent at the site. About $1.7 million in public funds has been spent on the project, with most of that money going to maintenance at the site.

Recently, county and Navy officials have squabbled over how much money the military should pay for maintenance costs. Anne Arundel officials paid $440,000 to a Chicago firm for site maintenance from January 2001 to June, but outstanding invoices total $555,000. Which side will cover the balance is unclear.

"It has been a tedious process," said deputy county attorney David A. Plymyer, who has worked on the redevelopment agreement, a complicated document that has taken a team of lawyers months to fine-tune. "There was a lot of fingernail-pulling, so in the end the developers felt they had given up everything they could and still have a finance-able project."

Costs for the high-profile project, which includes three executive campuses, a hotel and restaurant, have been estimated at $250 million. All but three of the 80 existing buildings -- many of them square, concrete and unattractive -- will be razed. Many believe it will take more than a decade to create the glass-and-brick campus portrayed in design sketches.

Residents who oppose the project -- mostly because they fear it could lead to nasty traffic snarls and unsafe driving conditions on narrow roads -- worry that County Council members will approve the redevelopment agreement and land-transfer without considering long-term effects.

"We are really very concerned about where this is going," said Jim Martin, an Annapolis resident and Severn River Association representative on the David Taylor Redevelopment Advisory Committee, a fractious group that may not be able to agree on a final report to Owens. Instead, the committee could write two.

Martin and other residents, including those in affluent neighborhoods such as Ferry Farms and Mulberry Hills, say a traffic survey conducted by developers and reviewed by the State Highway Administration underestimates the true impact of the office complex.

"I would say that there are too many questions left unanswered for me to vote for the agreement," committee member Libby Brady said. "I don't feel comfortable."

An early proposal by the advisory committee called for a 585,000-square-foot research and development complex to replace the former Navy base, which employed 1,400 people in its heyday, and where Robert Goddard once studied rocketry.

Annapolis Partners later proposed building about 730,000 square feet of office space, and partnership officials say the current plan -- for 630,000 square feet of space -- was designed to address residents' concerns.

As it is, Annapolis boasts a total of 1.86 million square feet of office space, not including government buildings.

Nearby residents, some of whom own houses worth from $600,000 to $2 million, hope that a lawsuit, filed last year and pending in circuit court, will force Annapolis Partners to scale back the project.

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