AAI to sell 26 `unused' acres near Hunt Valley headquarters

Owner seeks to cash in on assets unrelated to defense industry

May 04, 2004|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

AAI Corp. is planning to sell 26 acres of undeveloped land next to its Hunt Valley headquarters for $8 million, part of its parent company's move to cash in on assets not related to the defense industry.

The military contractor, best known for its unmanned aircraft, said yesterday that it has a buyer who did not want to be identified before the land sale is final. That is expected by Jan. 14, contingent on the results of a feasibility study of the property.

"It was an unused asset," said Jim Linse, a spokesman for AAI and its parent company, United Industrial Corp.

"Approximately a year ago, United Industrial announced a number of actions to improve shareholder value," Linse said.

"One was to move the United Industrial headquarters to Hunt Valley; another was to concentrate our business on defense ... and another aspect of this shareholder value improvement was to put up for sale this property in Hunt Valley that we were holding on to but was not doing anything."

He said AAI will be left with about 30 acres on Industry Lane, off York Road, and has room to expand.

Linse said he would not disclose who purchased the land at the buyer's request.

Milton H. "Mickey" Miller Jr., a Coldwell Banker broker involved in the deal, also refused to disclose the buyer.

Corporate Office Properties Trust, a Columbia real estate investment trust, recently bought the York Road building AAI once used as its headquarters, and several local brokers said it might be the buyer.

However, officials there wouldn't say whether they are purchasing the nearby land because they never comment on deals in progress.

Light manufacturing

The land under contract is zoned light manufacturing, allowing warehouses, flex space, offices and limited retail. AAI requested a zoning change through Baltimore County's current comprehensive rezoning effort, but Linse said the result is "moot" to the company now.

Although the council will make its zoning decisions this summer, the county's planning staff has recommended against a change on the site.

AAI had asked for the broadest commercial zone, which permits car sales and other retail.

"We'd like to see some employment there," said Arnold F. "Pat" Keller, the county's planning director, who's hopeful that the buyer is interested in a use under the current zoning rather than retail.

The county Department of Economic Development would also like to see a project heavy on jobs, said agency spokeswoman Fronda J. Cohen.

`High-value site'

She called the land "a high-value site in a great employment area."

In the past decade, AAI won rezoning of two parcels in Hunt Valley, now used by Chesapeake Automotive Group and Home Depot, Keller said.

AAI brought in some of NAI KLNB's retail specialists to take a look at the 26-acre property before it went under contract, said Bill Miller, senior vice president of the real estate brokerage firm.

A number of local developers were interested, but Miller said he hasn't heard who decided to buy.

"There's been car dealers out there looking for additional land," he noted.

Miller said Hunt Valley and the surrounding areas have long been desirable, so he's not surprised that AAI found a buyer.

Not much supply

"It gets back to the supply-and-demand factor; there just isn't that much land out there in the northern corridor available, especially south of Shawan Road," he said.

But the market isn't ideal at the moment.

Vacancy rates in the I-83 corridor are 13 percent for flex space, 16 percent for offices and 20 percent for industrial/warehouse buildings, including sublets, according to MacKenzie Cushman & Wakefield, another local brokerage firm.

The buyer of AAI's land might be planning to sit on the property for a while, said Bill Whitty, senior vice president and principal at MacKenzie.

"Anybody that builds on spec right now is a little crazy," Whitty said.

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