Federation makes comeback

Umbrella group strives to give residents a voice in development

December 08, 2006|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Nearly five years after falling apart over the development of Arundel Mills mall, the West County Federation of Civic Associations is back with a new issue to unite around.

Several community leaders have drafted bylaws to revive the dormant group in hopes of giving residents a voice in how the county and state prepare for the growth that will accompany the expansion of Fort Meade.

Besides the 20,000 jobs expected to arrive as the result of the military's Base Realignment and Closure process, residents are worried about the future of Laurel Park, the Oak Hill Youth Center, an undeveloped parcel in Russett and plans to build 1,600 homes in Laurel.

"We are going to get hit with a tsunami of development," said Tim Reyburn, former president of the Russett Community Association who sits on an Anne Arundel County committee on growth management at Fort Meade. "Water, fire, police, schools, parks and recreation - all of these things need to be looked at."

In the early 1980s, the umbrella federation consisted of more than 60 organizations, said Ray Smallwood, Maryland City Civic Association president and head of the federation from 1989 to 1997. The number shrank when Crofton-area organizations left to form the Greater Crofton Council.

The alliance of civic associations stopped meeting in 2002 because of infighting over whether to support the 1.3-million-square-foot outlet mall in Hanover. Former members believe a leaner, more nimble organization will be better able to work together.

The new group likely will have about 12 members, Smallwood said. The federation's coverage area would stretch east to west from Fort Meade to Laurel and north to south from the Jessup area to the Patuxent River. A majority will decide where the federation will stand on issues.

"We may not agree on everything, but we can talk about everything," he said. "It's a forum, and we hope that's the way it will be."

Smallwood has met twice with Reyburn and Raymond Szyperski, a board member of the Maryland City Civic Association. The three are inviting homeowners' groups to a meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Maryland City Fire Station on Route 198. They hope to get federal, state and county officials to attend.

Alvera Miller, president of the Jessup Improvement Association, supports their efforts. She said small communities need the support of a larger group.

Jamie Benoit, a Piney Orchard Democrat who was elected to the County Council in November, said the federation would give smaller communities more clout.

"The county has a real lack of awareness of those communities," he said.

Benoit said the federation will be critical in rallying communities on development issues, especially if the General Assembly approves slot machines at racetracks in Maryland. Any legislation would put slot machines at Laurel Park and generate more traffic, Benoit said.

Civic groups are also concerned about the future of the Oak Hill Youth Center, a juvenile detention facility near Laurel. If the center were closed, the 888-acre property near the National Security Agency headquarters would be a top site for development.

"There's obviously going to be intense pressure to develop it," he said.

Development in West County is heating up. The military base realignment next door at Fort Meade is expected to add 5,300 workers over the next five years, with defense contractors bringing that figure to 20,000.

The state estimates that the changes will add 4,440 households to the county, putting pressure on roads, schools and other services.

Already, Ribera Development has proposed the 1,600-home Arundel Gateway project a mile from the Army base.

"We've got developers going crazy," Szyperski said. "They're looking for every available piece of property."

In Russett, the county Board of Education is considering what to do with 78 undeveloped acres that it controls. Reyburn hopes the board will use it to build a school to replace two aging elementary schools nearby.

"It's like an artist's canvas," Reyburn said. "We have a moment in history to paint what we want the landscape to be."

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