Dairy farm property draws outside interest

Sand and gravel mine, organic farm join horse park among proposals for Navy site

Maryland

February 08, 2006|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

The Navy has received a half-dozen expressions of interest in the Naval Academy's dairy farm property, including proposals for a sand and gravel mine and an organic farming operation, in addition to the horse park plan put forth by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Navy officials sought outside interest after the stadium authority designated the 857-acre Gambrills tract last fall as its preferred site for a proposed horse park.

A Navy spokesman declined to identify the six parties that have expressed interest, but four of them confirmed their responses to The Sun.

Warren E. "Cookie" Halle, head of Silver Spring-based Halle Enterprises, confirmed that he responded to the Navy's request. But Halle declined to elaborate.

Halle's company has fought the county and community groups for 16 years to build a rubble landfill on 481 acres it owns in southern Odenton. Halle officials raised the ante in 2004 when they signed a nonbinding agreement with a West County umbrella of community associations, offering to donate as much as $750,000 a year to local community associations and build a public high school in Gambrills.

The company has extensive real estate holdings in the Baltimore-Washington area and is the developer for Seven Oaks, an 850-acre community east of Fort Meade that will include more than 3,000 homes.

Other expressions of interest in the dairy farm have come from Jay Baldwin, chief executive of Reliable Contracting Co. of Millersville, and from proprietors of a family-owned organic farming company that has a short-term lease on the dairy farm.

Baldwin said he had in mind a 20-year mining operation for sand and gravel.

"Mining gets the academy the money that it wants," he said, "and preserves the property from traffic and other changes."

Baldwin said a buffer would separate the mining work and nearby homes, with a 150-acre man-made lake left to improve the scenery of the rolling farmland.

Reliable Contracting Co. Inc. and Halle own the land for the proposed Odenton Town Center, about 1,600 acres. But the companies are making independent inquiries into the Navy property, a Halle spokesman said last night.

Edwin R. Fry, a Chestertown resident who co-owns the organic farming operation, said yesterday, "We're hoping the Navy wants to keep it in production with organic farming."

John Verrico, spokesman for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington, said the farm, which the academy relied upon for decades for milk, is a valuable asset that the Navy will continue to own and oversee. A long-term lease is what the Navy is seeking, he said; federal law requires that the property remain rural and agricultural in character.

The stadium authority picked the site for a $100 million horse park that would include a 2,500-seat arena, but Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has balked at the costs to the county, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. didn't forward a bond bill to the General Assembly to help pay for the project.

Verrico emphasized that the Navy will stick to its own schedule. "We are nowhere near any kind of done deal," he said.

Navy officials said they would see if the proposals comply with environmental rules. They said proposals with Navy ties, such as a housing community for military retirees, won't receive special favor.

"This is just a way to see who has what in mind," Verrico said. "Then we determine whether or not we want to go forward with a request for proposals."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Phillip McGowan contributed to this article

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