Horse park on farm not sure bet

Stadium Authority faces competition for lease of Navy's Gambrills site

December 04, 2005|By CHRIS YAKAITIS | CHRIS YAKAITIS,SUN REPORTER

While much of the discussion about the Naval Academy dairy farm in Gambrills has focused on the Maryland Stadium Authority's horse park proposal, the Navy has indicated that the race to secure a long-term lease for the site is still wide open.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington posted a "Request for Interest" notice in The Sun and other area publications last week, seeking "potential re-use opportunities" for the 857-acre site.

"It's actually standard procedure," said John Verrico, public affairs officer for the agency, which controls the lease. "That's exactly what happens when the land comes up for renewal."

And at this point, no specific option for site use is at any particular advantage.

Verrico said the Navy would accept proposals until Dec. 19 before starting its review process, which would probably extend well into next year.

"We use a term called "best value," so it's not necessarily strictly financial. We look at a lot of factors," including impact on the community, the environment and the infrastructure, he said. "We're so far away from any long-term decisions at this point that it's unlikely that it will be any time in the near future."

To date, the horse park option has prompted the most discussion. The Stadium Authority selected the dairy farm as its top choice for the Maryland Horse Park Oct. 10, and is conducting a feasibility study that will weigh architectural, engineering and traffic-impact aspects of the project.

Gary McGuigan, project executive for the Stadium Authority, said the study was about two-thirds completed and that a final report was expected by mid-January.

The authority plans to present the report before the state legislature and at public meetings addressing the project.

"We want to get together with [the community] because we think we have similar goals in terms of maintaining open space," said Alison L. Asti, executive director of the Stadium Authority.

Verrico noted that federal legislation restricts the property to rural agricultural use, and it isn't entirely clear whether the horse park would fit the bill.

County officials said they expected the Navy to solicit further proposals and noted that the horse park is not a county government initiative.

"We're on the sidelines just like everyone else," said Robert D. Miller, county land use and environment officer. "We are reserving judgment."

In January, MD Sunrise Farm signed a one-year lease with the Navy to operate an organic farm on the site. That interim lease has since been renewed until Jan. 31, 2007.

Edwin Fry, managing partner of Sunrise, also expressed interest in a long-term agreement with the Navy.

"This is a substantial-size farm," he said. "Taking it out of production agriculture is just one more step in eliminating production agriculture as a viable industry in west Anne Arundel County."

Meanwhile, debate within the community continues to roil over the property. Citizens for the Maryland Horse Park, for instance, has set up a Web site at mdhorsepark.info. But other residents in the surrounding neighborhoods have opposed the horse park at public meetings.

The Stadium Authority's proposal includes a 5,000-seat indoor arena, outdoor pavilion, 1,000 stalls, eight to 12 show rings, educational facilities, a campground, and cross-country and steeplechase courses.

George Leonard, a Courts of Four Seasons resident, said that given traffic problems on Route 3 and sporadic brownouts, the infrastructure can't support such an operation. He also questions whether it's financially viable.

"To put in something that's going to annoy the daylights out of the local neighbors and cost them money, since the state's going to have to subsidize it, doesn't make any sense," he said.

chris.yakaitis@baltsun.com

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