Planners add Baltimore to BRAC equation

City's housing and infrastructure might accommodate influx of defense workers

March 14, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

As state and local officials focus on ways to house and move thousands of defense-sector workers bound for the region, some have begun focusing on Baltimore - with its abundance of affordable housing and established transportation network - as a way to handle the growth.

Representatives of the counties in and around Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground said at a meeting yesterday that they are taking a regional approach to confronting the potential sprawl generated by the Pentagon's base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC, which is expected to draw 40,000 to 60,000 private- and public-sector jobs to Maryland within the next six years.

Although officials have concentrated on the roads, schools and homes needed to meet the needs of two heavily affected installations - Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County - officials are increasingly turning their attention to what Baltimore City has to offer.

Clarence T. Bishop, chief of staff to Mayor Martin O'Malley, acknowledged after his testimony to the regional planning group that "the city has been on the periphery [of the BRAC discussion] because the growth is taking place at Aberdeen and Fort Meade."

`No way around us'

As far as Baltimore's place in the discussion of BRAC growth, Bishop said: "There is no way around us."

Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican, referred to Baltimore as "no longer a hole in the doughnut." He said he expected the city to play a role in a regional marketing partnership recently established among Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties.

Discussion of the city's role came at the most recent gathering of the Maryland Military Installation Strategic Planning Council, a consortium of local, state and federal officials overseeing military growth in Maryland. The meeting was held in Crownsville in Anne Arundel County.

While jurisdictions from Prince George's to Cecil counties are preparing for billions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the growth from BRAC, city officials emphasized that Baltimore's existing infrastructure could accommodate 170,000 new residents - a goal city officials hope to achieve in the next decade.

Leaders in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties also said that concentrations of affordable housing exist within their jurisdictions. Many of those areas are in older, established neighborhoods such as Glen Burnie, or in shuttered industrial areas such as in Middle River.

Bishop said the city's location between Fort Meade and Aberdeen makes it a convenient place to house workers from both the south and north and provide them with accessible commuting options. There was little discussion of the city's troubled school system, which has grappled with low-performing schools, budget shortfalls and a court order over special education.

Urban attractions

Rather, state officials pointed to the urban charms and cultural diversity that Baltimore offers in attracting families from New Jersey, where jobs are being shifted from Fort Monmouth to Aberdeen, and Northern Virginia, which is losing jobs to Fort Meade. They also said the thousands of abandoned rowhouses could provide a sanctuary of affordable housing for less-affluent families who might be displaced by the influx of high-paying defense jobs.

Bishop said the city's population decline has leveled off, and he pointed to some $10 billion in private development since 2000 within Baltimore as a sign of the city's rebirth. He estimated that an additional $2.5 billion will be spent there within the next two years.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat, spoke yesterday of partnering with several surrounding jurisdictions to bring a regional focus to managing growth.

"We need Howard County, Baltimore City and Prince George's County," she said, adding that Anne Arundel County was in a good position "at this point."

Owens has submitted a bill to the County Council to form a growth committee for the Fort Meade area. Howard County Executive James N. Robey will soon appoint a similar panel by executive order, said Richard W. Story, chief executive of Howard's Economic Development Authority.

Other regional committees addressing needs around Aberdeen have already begun developing a list of road, water and sewer improvements, from Baltimore to Cecil counties.

State and local leaders stressed that the projections of job gains are still changing, and that the estimated 60,000 new jobs won't translate into 60,000 workers - and their families - coming into the state. Some workers in Northern Virginia, for example, could commute to Fort Meade.

Officials said yesterday they hope to redirect a portion of the state's deep pool of high-tech workers from jobs in the Washington area to Maryland.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., Anne Arundel County's planning director, said, "We are really looking to shorten commutes rather than moving people."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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