Speakout

April 15, 2007

LAST WEEK'S ISSUE: -- With at least 12,000 jobs arriving at Fort Meade over the next four years, developers, other business leaders and civic activists think Anne Arundel County should pour in millions of dollars now to build roads, a pedestrian bridge and other projects to make the 40-year-vision of the Odenton Town Center a reality.

A recent draft study prepared for the county's economic development agency said if Anne Arundel fails to spend at least $30 million to improve Odenton's infrastructure, the concept of a unified community of homes, businesses and retailers, convenient for walkers on 1,600 acres will die and developers will erect a mixture of smaller projects to serve the wave of defense workers.

Given the growth demands facing the county and limited funds, should County Executive John R. Leopold fund projects to jump-start the building of the town center?

Growth offers great opportunity

The simple answer: yes. The growth at Fort Meade presents Anne Arundel County a generational opportunity for substantial economic development. Nowhere is that opportunity more evident than in the Odenton Town Center. Yet little development is occurring there while sprawl begins to invade nearby parts of Western Anne Arundel County.

What makes the case for development in the Town Center even more compelling is the presence of a stand-alone zoning ordinance designed specifically for the Town Center which at once allows for dense development next to mass transit while simultaneously respecting the environment. In a word, Odenton has an opportunity to become the state's best example of smart growth.

Given its proximity to the massive resources of Fort Meade and the National Security Agency as well as the busiest MARC station on the Penn Line, it is puzzling why the Leopold administration has neither begun implementing a defined capital plan for the Town Center nor supported proposed legislation aimed at making that development higher quality, quicker and more predictable.

In my view, the time is now, not 18 months from now for the county, and more specifically, the Leopold administration to put its money (and legislative priorities) where its proverbial mouth is by creating an environment whereby the Odenton Town Center can become more than a paper vision.

Jamie Benoit Piney Orchard

The writer represents the 4th District on the Anne Arundel County Council.

Stop exploiting West County

Not on my dime! West County has been exploited enough.

The taxpayers of Anne Arundel County have been very generous to developers during the previous two administrations.

Quality of life has deteriorated with the influx of new residents that was supposed to bring tax dollars and support for government programs. In fact, freshwater supplies are threatened, violent crime is rising, public education is overwhelmed and "small government" has become synonymous with cheap, inefficient and impotent delivery of services. Increase impact fees.

I am tired of paying the 10-year bounty for each new household. Survey water and electricity supplies, impose work force housing requirements, make needed repairs to existing failing infrastructure threatening the Bay.

If 40,000 illegal immigrants can settle in without much planning, surely people who can pay their way with good jobs can find housing among the many foreclosures facing AA County homeowners.

Maryellen Brady Edgewater

Make Odenton another Reston

The county has a major investment in producing a vibrant, well-planned Odenton Town Center. The challenge has been the lack of a champion to make the Odenton Town Center a reality and a strong leader to convince the many individual land owners to follow a plan.

I believe that County Executive John Leopold and Councilman Jamie Benoit are those champions who can make Odenton into another Reston.

Finding the infrastructure dollars is not the problem, as the county and state can float bonds to cover the infrastructure cost and the end users would pay for the costs in terms of a special bond tax.

Witness what was done in Baltimore City when then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer championed the creation of the Inner Harbor.

The county executive should create a special office within his cabinet and appoint one person to implement the plan. That person has to be given the tools and power to make the tough decisions for the good of all.

Even before BRAC, West County is where the vast majority of growth was planned, thus, it makes sense to commit time and resources in that region.

If forceful action is not taken soon, Odenton will indeed revert back to its old days of "Boomtown." The buildings will be more modern, but we will end up with a patchwork of growth and a missed opportunity.

Some opportunities comes along once in a lifetime. This is one of them.

John S. Pantelides Annapolis

The writer is on the board of the Anne Arundel County Alliance for Fair Land Use.

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