Critics fear loopholes in Taylor plan

Advisory board members call agreement ill-formed

Report to be sent to officials

Office space envisioned at former Navy facility

Anne Arundel

May 19, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

They may have been outvoted when an advisory committee endorsed a redevelopment agreement for the former David Taylor Research Center, but the six members who opposed the plan refuse to be silenced.

The vocal minority of the David Taylor Redevelopment Advisory Committee is preparing a report charging that the agreement, which could set off a decade of office construction on the banks of the Severn River near Annapolis, contains legal loopholes that could allow for more building and more traffic in neighboring communities than is planned.

And while they acknowledge that the County Council seems likely to adopt the agreement, the dissenting voices hope to at least raise enough questions to change a few minds. They plan to send their report to County Executive Janet S. Owens and to council members within two weeks.

"I hope it will clarify some of the issues," said Tom Rose, a resident of Bay Head and a member of the advisory committee who voted against the redevelopment agreement. "I think there has been a lot of confusion."

At least one council member said he looks forward to reading the group's report. Councilman John J. Klocko III said he would give it thoughtful consideration.

Klocko has been critical of the way the Owens administration has handled the project, and he said news reports about Owens' failure to disclose a business relationship between her husband and a member of the advisory committee was yet another cause for concern.

"The project has lost a lot of its shininess and appeal," Klocko, a Crofton Republican, said Friday.

About three weeks ago, the David Taylor Redevelopment Advisory Committee voted 15-6 to adopt a redevelopment plan and developer's agreement for the former naval base near Annapolis. The plan calls for private developers to turn the property into a large office complex. Owens, a Democrat, has supported the plan, saying it will bring jobs and tax revenue to the county.

Annapolis Partners, a development team that consists of Maurice B. Tose, an Annapolis entrepreneur and Naval Academy alumnus, and Mesirow Stein Real Estate of Chicago, was selected by the county to redevelop the shuttered military base two years ago.

Since then, county officials have been working with the Navy to negotiate a transfer of the 46-acre site to developers, but several issues, including access to the area, which abuts an active Navy station, and subdivision of the site, which was not subject to county zoning laws as a military base, have stymied the process.

Members of the advisory committee who are opposed to the plan - most of whom live near the site - will include in their report concerns they have raised throughout the debate.

The opponents say imperfections in the legal document could give developers legal leeway to build an office complex as big as 730,000 square feet - 100,000 more than spelled out in the redevelopment agreement.

Another worry of the opponents is the number of employees who will work at the office complex - and the traffic that these workers will generate. They say language in the agreement designed to limit employees and vehicle trips on neighborhood roads is vague. They also are concerned about provisions in the agreement, which was written by lawyers for the county and developers, that allow for amendments to the document.

Opponents have criticized county officials for lobbying the Navy to subdivide the property before the transfer of ownership, saying the move weakens government review of building plans.

But county officials argue that without the subdivision, no developer would have taken on the project, and existing businesses at the David Taylor site could be forced to petition for rezoning.

David A. Plymyer, deputy county attorney, said that the only way developers could build more than 630,000 square feet of office space at the site would be if the council amended the development agreement. The number of employees would be limited to 1,958.

Plymyer said that unless employees are "parachuted in from above," the development agreement would limit the number of vehicles on neighborhood streets. He said that traffic monitors located near the future office complex, which will include a hotel and restaurant, will count all vehicles, not just those of full-time employees.

Plymyer defended the committee's work and recent vote, and dismissed comments by members who chastised Owens for failing to disclose that her husband, David M. Sheehan, a Baltimore attorney, is a paid legal adviser for T. Conrad Monts, a committee member who was appointed by Owens two years ago.

Common Cause of Maryland, a government watchdog group, has launched an investigation to determine whether state or county law was violated. It also has called for the county's ethics commission to investigate.

"The process was nothing if not fair," Plymyer said. "It is a good proposal and it is meritorious."

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