County Council to debate fate of ex-Navy site

Job creation, environment among concerns at Taylor

Office park envisioned

Owens, most members of board support plan

Anne Arundel

July 14, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Council members are set to debate - and perhaps offer amendments to - a set of bills that could set off a decade of demolition, cleanup and construction at the former David Taylor Research Center near Annapolis.

The legislative packet, which will be discussed at a council meeting tomorrow, culminates nearly a year of tense negotiations between county officials, the Navy and Annapolis Partners, a team that consists of Annapolis entrepreneur Maurice B. Tose and Mesirow Stein Real Estate of Chicago.

With council approval, Annapolis Partners will receive title to all 46 acres of the Navy's former David Taylor site, a stunning property with views of the Severn River and the Naval Academy. In return, developers will pay the county $1.5 million, an amount that local officials say will cover costs incurred by the land transfer.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, a leading proponent of the David Taylor project, has said that developers' plans to erect an office park, hotel and restaurant on the site will replace 2,000 jobs lost when the Navy shut down the facility in 1999.

Opponents said last week that they will attend the public hearing, but acknowledge that they have little hope of stopping the high-profile project now.

"There are a lot of questions to be answered, but [county officials] have decided to go ahead with it," said Robert Poor, a critic who served on the David Taylor Reuse Advisory Committee.

Although a majority of the committee voted to support the $250 million reuse plan, a small group of opponents, including Poor, have argued that the project could create traffic problems. Poor and other opponents sent Owens a letter outlining their concerns last month. So far, county officials, including Owens, have dismissed those concerns.

Instead, county officials, some of whom have spent hundreds of hours crafting the legislation and ironing out wrinkles with the Navy and Annapolis Partners, have said that the high-profile redevelopment project could become a national model for military base conversions and environmental safeguards.

"It's not the prettiest place right now," said Jerome W. Klasmeier, special projects coordinator for Owens. "There are 88 buildings there now. There will be 13 at completion. That alone will improve the aesthetics of the site."

The reduction in the number of buildings is important because it will create large growing areas for trees and shrubs, said Betty Dixon, the county's land-use and environment director. Those plants, plus vegetative screens that will hide two large parking structures, also will help purify storm water runoff before it hits the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Providing an extra barrier of protection against water pollution will be a network of storm water cleaning stations, she said. An architectural design of the network shows the seven stations evenly spaced across the sloped site like a giant strand of pearls.

As it is, the site is almost entirely covered by concrete structures. Rain water washes over oily rooftops and greasy parking lots before spilling into nearby waterways.

"What we have here is an opportunity, through redevelopment, to get something better," said Ren Serey, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission, which has reviewed some of the project's legislative details.

Critics agree that the shuttered base should be cleaned up and reused, but some complain that current plans to construct 630,000 square feet of office space, including a hotel and restaurant, is too much for the site, which is surrounded by pricey homes. They say the redevelopment agreement could allow developers to alter their construction plans in the future, or reconfigure lots and sell them to hungry buyers.

"The redevelopment agreement allows Annapolis Partners to amend the agreement and rezone the property," said Council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a former development lawyer who represents the Annapolis area. She plans to introduce at least one amendment to the legislative packet at the meeting Monday, she said.

Should the legislation fail, the project could be scrapped and the property sold at auction. But that isn't likely. Most council members say they support the redevelopment project.

"I think there truly will be an environmental benefit to the project," said Council member Pamela G. Beidle, a Democrat from Linthicum. "It is going to be one of the most beautiful office campuses. I bet they won't be able to build it fast enough."

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