Complex planned at Fort Meade

Firm wants to build offices

project could cost county millions

April 14, 2007|By Phillip McGowan and Dan Lamothe | Phillip McGowan and Dan Lamothe,Sun reporters

Army commanders will meet with Anne Arundel County officials in the coming weeks to discuss plans to have a private developer build a $700 million office complex at Fort Meade, a proposal that would transform the Army post but that would cost the county millions in tax revenue.

One of the nation's largest real estate developers, Trammell Crow Co., has entered into exclusive negotiations with the Army to build at least 2 million square feet of office space to handle 10,000 defense contract workers drawn by base realignment and closure, or BRAC, and an expansion of the National Security Agency.

The 15-building project would change the landscape of Fort Meade, creating a privately run office center for defense and federal contract workers near the edge of the 5,400-acre military installation.

Trammell Crow would build two golf courses and provide other services over 50 years in exchange for being allowed to build on federal land.

The Army wants to clear two courses at the center of Fort Meade, about 400 acres, and use them as a site to locate the Defense Information Systems Agency and portions of the NSA.

But officials in Anne Arundel County worry that they may be left holding the bag.

The county would have to pay millions of dollars for improvements to nearby roads, schools, and water and sewer lines to support the developer, which would not have to pay local property taxes because the project would rise on federal land.

That amounts to a savings to the developer of about $2 million a year or more in real estate taxes when fully built out, officials estimate.

County Executive John R. Leopold said the proposal underscores the need for Congress to help local governments pay for the infrastructure costs. He believes that the federal government should provide a payment to the county that's similar to impact aid, which provides funds to school systems based on the number of students from enlisted military families.

Trade-offs

The situation at Fort Meade illustrates the trade-offs of BRAC, which offers economic opportunities and high-paying jobs but also brings with it significant infrastructure costs to suburban counties.

While the Fort Meade expansion is expected to produce an annual economic impact of $1 billion, Anne Arundel County officials estimate that the BRAC expansion will require $5 billion in transportation improvements, including extending the Metrorail Green Line from Greenbelt to BWI-Marshall Airport and overhauling Routes 175, 198 and 3.

"I think it's fair to say that Anne Arundel County, because of Fort Meade/NSA, is an area that the entire country has stock in," Leopold, a Republican, said. "We are the heartbeat of our nation's security efforts. Our nation's defenses is focused on intelligence-gathering and technology, and that is centered in this county. Everyone in this country has a stake in Anne Arundel County being provided the infrastructure" for the BRAC expansion.

"It's extremely important for Congress to amend the federal impact law to include commercial entities such as the Trammell Crow project," Leopold said. "Hopefully, there will be assistance coming from the federal government."

A top Army official who is overseeing the lease process said the county has a chance over the next few months to discuss the impact of the office complex, and then develop a method by which the county could be compensated, including the possibility of creating a special taxing district.

Assistance

However, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat who represents Fort Meade, said there is "no way" the federal government will offer the county upfront money such as an "in-lieu payment" to cover such costs.

"That's just not how the system works," he said. Rather, Ruppersberger said, the Maryland congressional delegation is lobbying to funnel funds to the state that can then be directed to counties and cities to deal with BRAC.

"We're doing this as a team, and it's important that we work together on a federal, state and local level," Ruppersberger, a Democrat and former Baltimore County executive, said. "Because of the BRAC process, we have a very good argument [to ask for federal assistance], and a better argument than some of the other states that are asking for money like we are."

Ruppersberger said he and other members of Congress have been meeting and talking with local officials, and are looking to develop a unified list of priorities when it comes time to request money.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat who serves on the Appropriations Committee, told Leopold in February that she stood a better chance of expanding school impact aid and improving funding for special education and transportation than of getting aid to compensate for the rise in contract workers.

She has since secured preliminary funding to boost impact aid nationally by $100 million.

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