Glendening aide seeks to clarify land deal

Resale of St. Mary's forest proposed in '03, he says

October 29, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A chief of staff to former Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has misstated the genesis of a contentious proposal to sell state-owned preservation land in St. Mary's County to a private developer, and he wants the record corrected.

In published reports last week, Ehrlich was quoted as saying that the land deal was conceived by Glendening before Ehrlich took office in January last year.

In subsequent interviews, Ehrlich clarified his comments and said that although the purchase of the 836-acre tract was part of a huge land preservation deal largely executed by Glendening, he did not mean to imply that the resale of the land to a private developer was proposed by his predecessor.

"There were two different occasions before we came in when the Glendening administration pushed for it to be purchased, but the dollars were not there," Ehrlich said this week.

Confusion over the origin of the plan has angered Gene Lynch, Glendening's former chief of staff. Glendening and Lynch work together as members of Smart Growth Investments, a for-profit development company based in Silver Spring.

Glendening has not returned several telephone calls for comment on the transaction, and has abided by an agreement with Ehrlich that the two politicians not criticize each other.

"The idea to acquire and sell the 836 acres was not `negotiated,' discussed, nor contemplated by the Glendening administration," Lynch wrote to the governor in a letter faxed yesterday and obtained by The Sun. "Your secretary of D.G.S. [Department of General Services] has clearly acknowledged that this purchase/sale idea originated last spring, 2003, with the purchase in the early fall, 2003, with the potential sale to conclude winter, 2004."

"If you believe anything in this letter is less than completely accurate, please let me know by return correspondence," Lynch wrote. "Otherwise, I expect you will actively correct the record" with reporters.

An Ehrlich spokesman did not return a telephone call for comment last night, nor did Lynch.

The proposed land sale has raised concerns among environmentalists and lawmakers. The General Services Department notified lawmakers that the state was planning to sell the land to an undisclosed "benefactor," who would preserve most of it and give some land to the county for schools.

Legislative analysts questioned why the state would sell the land for the same price it paid for it, without new appraisals. They also noted that the benefactor would be receiving a tax break worth up to $7 million.

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