Taylor project up for vote

Ex-Navy site in Arundel slated for office campuses

$250 million project

Questions about finances of builders among worries

August 05, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Hotly contested plans to build three office campuses over a dozen years at a Severn River site across from Annapolis could finally get the green light from County Council members tonight.

For the second time in less than a month, the Anne Arundel County Council is set to discuss, and possibly adopt, a set of bills to redevelop the former David Taylor Research Center. Approval could set off a decade of demolition, cleanup and construction at the site.

The council delayed a vote three weeks ago when council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk raised questions about the financial strength of the developers, Annapolis Partners. Since then, most council members have met with representatives of the development team, who have tried to dispel concerns.

"Unless something comes up that disproves what I have heard, then I am supporting it," said council member Shirley Murphy, a Democrat from Pasadena, referring to the legislation needed to transfer the 46-acre research center from the Navy to developers.

Under the proposal, Annapolis Partners would receive title to all 46 acres of the site with its stunning views of the Severn River. In return, developers would pay the county $1.5 million, an amount that local officials say would cover the costs incurred in the land transfer.

Critics complain that the plans - which call for 630,000 square feet of commercial space, including a hotel and restaurant - are too much for the site. But backers, including County Executive Janet S. Owens, counter that the redevelopment would replace 2,000 jobs lost when the Navy shut down the facility in 1999. They also say the project could be a national model for military base conversions. The project would reduce the number of buildings from 88 to 13, create large growing areas for trees and shrubs, and add storm water cleaning stations.

Council members received a packet of financial information from Annapolis Partners' development team - Mesirow Stein Real Estate of Chicago and Annapolis businessman Maurice B. Tose - late last week. County officials, including Jerome W. Klasmeier, special projects coordinator, said they hope the information will quell any remaining anxiety regarding project financing.

Critics' concerns

Opponents of the $250 million project have raised concerns that Tose - whose stock holdings in TeleCommunications Systems Inc., a high-tech firm he founded, have slipped to less than $3 a share recently - may be short on funds.

"No review of the economic soundness and viability of the development has been done in almost five years," said Jana Carey, a member of the David Taylor Redevelopment Advisory Committee. "The county should not be cavalier about these issues. They are of major importance for the county's fiscal health."

Confidence in builders

County officials said they are confident Tose and Mesirow Stein will have the cash needed to build the new office complex. Klasmeier said developers will probably borrow money or sell bonds to raise capital.

"I've never doubted their capacity to perform," he said.

Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat and a longtime critic of the project, isn't convinced. Besides worries over the development team's finances, she continues to raise concerns about traffic congestion and employee caps.

"It is critical for us to do this right the first time because we will not be able to undo a mistake," she said in a recent editorial to local newspapers. "Should it be the policy of the county to allow the maximum development and worry about the traffic impact later? That has already happened too often."

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