BRAC momentum

October 22, 2006

The proposed Odenton Town Square is the kind of development that should be replicated as Maryland prepares for the arrival of thousands of new federal workers. It is transit-oriented; it offers a mix of residential, commercial and hotel space (plus some affordable housing); and it represents public-private investment. Managing the expected growth from the military base realignment and closure process (BRAC) will be shared by state and local governments. But the state should use its power to ensure that the BRAC development revitalizes old communities and complements existing ones.

The state appears to be headed down that path, which is encouraging. For the past three years, the state's economic development chief, Aris Melissaratos, has chaired the Maryland Military Installation Council, which was established by the state legislature to address BRAC. Citizen alliance groups have been formed for Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground to get community input. Local planning processes will govern the BRAC development. But make no mistake: The state will be able to influence the extent and direction of growth because local governments will rely on state funds to bankroll road improvements, transit development and school construction.

Although most of the federal workers won't arrive until 2010, planning is under way. Anne Arundel County has been out front on the issue; two years ago, County Executive Janet S. Owens put improvements to Route 175 at the top of her state funding priority list. Advanced planning can pay off.

Counties are working together on issues, in part, because they have to - new National Security Agency workers who choose to live in Howard County may have to rely on an Anne Arundel-Howard transit connector to get to work. Cooperation should be fostered; the benefits from BRAC should be shared across the region. Baltimore, for example, can provide the cultural life and housing choices not found in the surrounding suburbs.

Planning is essential to ensure the region is not inundated with too many houses or congested roads or too few recreation areas. The state will affect the pace of implementing those plans. But its more important role will be to ensure a timely, measured response as the BRAC momentum takes hold in Odenton, Aberdeen and elsewhere in the region.

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