Vacant sites at 6,400 acres

Survey indicates land that remains for commercial and industrial use

November 22, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Fewer than 6,400 acres of vacant, undeveloped land remain for commercial and industrial use in Anne Arundel County, thanks to soaring defense growth in the northwest tier, according to a first-of-its-kind county survey.

The one-year study, released by the Planning and Zoning Office, found that much of the available commercial and industrial land is centered around the growth epicenters of Fort Meade and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The state and county are already directing millions to upgrade roads and mass transit there.

"Vacant lands are in those areas," said Lois D. Villemaire, a Planning and Zoning administrator. "It's a good thing. We are on target."

With such a scarcity of land, however, developers are already seeking zoning changes to accommodate their projects. County officials hope the shortage will also motivate builders to accelerate revitalization efforts in older communities such as Laurel, Odenton, Glen Burnie and Brooklyn Park.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat who is finishing her eight years in office, said she pushed to get the study complete before her successor, John R. Leopold, takes over next month so the county can plan how it will use what land is left.

"You can actually see the build-out of the county," said Owens, who previously estimated that all developable land would be consumed within 10 to 15 years. "Trying to determine the future needs to the county is essential, especially [regarding] industrial land."

At least 20,000 jobs will be coming to Fort Meade over the next five years as part of a national military realignment. In addition, the National Security Agency, also located at the Army post, is adding 1,500 jobs a year through 2011 - spawning the need for thousands of private-sector contracting jobs.

Finding space for high-grade, secure office space has become a priority for defense contractors and real estate developers. Already, 9.2 million square feet of retail and office space is to be built in the next three to five years in the county, said Aaron J. Greenfield, president and CEO of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

Developers are seeking regulatory approvals or have begun construction on at least 28 major projects across the county.

This fall, Preston Capital Management LLC, a Lutherville developer, is proposing to built $230 million worth of warehouses and apartments near BWI and Arundel Mills. Closer to Fort Meade, a Dallas-based developer, Trammell Crow Co., wants to build a $700 million office and retail project on 540 acres that abut the Army post.

In recent months, Maryland officials announced two large transit-oriented development projects that would provide high-density housing and office space: a $175 million project at the Savage MARC station on the Howard County line and a $150 million project at the Odenton MARC station.

Last year, Buccini/Pollin Group announced plans to build BWI Hilton Park, a mixed-use development that would serve as the largest concentration of new office space in years - about 400,000 square feet.

"We are a prime location," Greenfield said. "People want to be here. It's a hot area."

With Anne Arundel County caught up in the region's commercial expansion - one of the largest such booms in the country - the scarcity of land might prompt developers to look more actively at redeveloping existing properties instead of clearing new sites, county officials said.

"I tend to think we can be very creative in how we tap into existing land and revitalize and reinvest in these older areas," Greenfield said.

According to the study, the county has 266,140 acres, excluding the incorporated municipalities of Highland Beach and Annapolis, and including Fort Meade and other federal properties. It identified 18,308 acres that are zoned for commercial and industrial use. Of that land:

11,927 acres have either been or can't be developed.

1,363 acres are undeveloped, vacant land zoned for commercial use.

4,339 acres are undeveloped, vacant land zoned for industrial use.

County officials said the analysis will help the next administration and County Council to modify the county's growth blueprint, known as the General Development Plan, which will come under review for the first time in a decade, starting next year. Leopold, a Republican, has said the GDP will play a critical role in aligning demands for infrastructure improvements with growth.

The review is contingent on the completion of a similar study of residential land. Officials are identifying the number of vacant buildable lots, a process that will be finished next summer.

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