Influx at bases a test for Md.

Thousands of jobs, a need for homes and infrastructure

December 07, 2006|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

With the Pentagon's military base realignment expected to bring tens of thousands of jobs to Maryland in the next five years, officials warned yesterday that state and local governments will have to act quickly to deal with the influx, despite mounting opposition among voters to new growth.

Speaking at a daylong seminar sponsored by area homebuilders, state, local and military officials said that the incoming O'Malley administration and the General Assembly that convenes next month must find the money to pay for costly highway and transit projects, school expansions, and water and sewer upgrades to accommodate the 40,000 to 60,000 new jobs expected to be created by the base realignment.

"There are significant infrastructure challenges," said J. Michael Hayes, director of military and economic affairs for the state Department of Business and Economic Development, at Martin's West conference center in Baltimore County.

Though planners can't be sure how many families will relocate to Maryland and where they'll settle, officials hope to have estimates of needed projects firmed up by next month.

Meanwhile, Hayes and others say, any moves to increase residential development face potential resistance from suburban residents who elected slow-growth candidates in local elections last month. In Aberdeen this week, voters rejected the annexation of 500 acres beyond the city limits to make way for more than 1,000 new homes, townhouses and condominiums - a project that had been touted as a response to the base realignment.

"The environment continues to deteriorate, and it becomes increasingly difficult to implement BRAC properly," said Anirban Basu, an economic forecasting consultant, who spoke to the group. Turnover in the governor's mansion and in the administration of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, among others, also slows government response at a critical time, he said.

Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County are expected to get the lion's share of the new jobs as a result of the base realignment and closings elsewhere. But planners project that fewer than half of the 28,000 households coming with those jobs will settle in the two counties. The rest are expected to live in surrounding counties, and others might commute from out of state rather than move to Maryland.

Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is losing some jobs and adding others, is expected to see a net increase of 8,200 workers on the 72,000-acre base. Up to twice that many jobs will be added around the installation by defense contractors and other businesses that serve the expanding community.

"When you bring in 8,000 high-paying government jobs, those people need to live somewhere, they need someplace to fill up their cars," said Col. John Wright, the proving ground's commander, who blamed Baltimore's rush-hour gridlock for his late arrival at the session.

Fort Meade, meanwhile, is expected to add 5,300 jobs from defense operations being transferred there. The overall growth impact is likely to be greater, however, because the National Security Agency is expected to increase its work force there by an even larger amount.

Up to one-fifth of the Defense Information System Agency workers whose jobs are being transferred to Fort Meade from Arlington, Va., already live in Maryland, and others living in Northern Virginia have indicated that they would commute rather than move. While that would reduce pressure on the region's tight housing market, it could aggravate traffic problems in a region that has the nation's second-longest average commute times, said Dunbar Brooks, a planner with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

Richard E. Hall, manager of environmental planning with the Maryland Department of Planning, noted that the base-related growth comes on top of significant population increases already occurring in the state. Planners project a growth of about 300,000 households statewide over the next 15 years.

Meanwhile, Hall noted, all of the development projected for Carroll, Harford and Cecil counties in the next 25 years won't fit into their designated growth areas. Unless changes are made, he said, APG-related household growth could be "deflected" to Pennsylvania, to the upper Eastern Shore or to Baltimore.

"We'll have NIMBY issues, tough issues about accommodating future growth," he predicted, from people who don't want it in their backyards. With counties and municipalities struggling to keep up with their communities' growing needs for water and wastewater treatment, the state planner said, "We're going to be looking not for a silver bullet, but a silver pipe."

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