Leopold would put park at Naval Academy farm

Anne Arundel executive's plan includes organic farm, botanical garden

March 17, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

Anne Arundel County will seek to turn the former Naval Academy Dairy Farm into a park that maintains an organic farm and adds community gardens, a botanical garden and education programs, County Executive John R. Leopold announced yesterday.

He plans to submit a bid to the Navy by its deadline Monday for a long-term lease of the Gambrills site, which until this week was where the state had hoped to build an equestrian park. The Maryland Horse Industry Board abandoned its effort in the face of local opposition, particularly Leopold's.

"It's important for the county to control its own destiny and not leave it to the whims of other state agencies to decide how it's going to grow," Leopold said. "County government has to hold the reins of this stallion of growth to make sure we guide it in the right way."

The $114.2 million proposal, which called for a visitors center, a museum, an indoor show ring with 2,500 fixed seats and stables for 840 horses, had the support of local equestrians and Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. But Leopold has long said a horse park would clog traffic in the booming area and would not protect the rural character of the land, as required by federal law.

The county's proposal calls for allowing the county to add gardens where residents could try their hand at farming, a botanical garden, programs for students to learn about agriculture and botany and possibly a solar energy farm or farm museum.

Events at the park could include hayrides, festivals, pick-your-own produce days and a corn maze.

Leopold said he didn't know how much of the 847-acre site the county's proposal would use or how many county employees it would take to run it, although he hoped volunteers would enlist to help offset costs.

He said he planned to rely on the counsel of Frank Marzucco, director of recreation and parks, as well as a seven-person advisory committee of "prominent local farmers" who will iron out the details.

Six parties have expressed interest in the property, including Chaney Enterprises and Reliable Contracting Co. Inc., which have a joint proposal to create a sand-and-gravel mine; Maryland Sunrise Farms LLC, the current leaseholder; Chesterfield Farms, which also wants to maintain an organic farm; and Halle Cos., which has not elaborated on its plans.

"The residents want to continue farming on the dairy farm," said County Councilman Jamie Benoit Jr., who represents the area. "Anne Arundel County's proposal will do just that."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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