D.C. to build new juvenile facility

Maryland senator claims partial victory in agreement over land in Arundel Co.

May 18, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown, Phillip McGowan and Gadi Dechter | Matthew Hay Brown, Phillip McGowan and Gadi Dechter,Sun reporters

Officials in Maryland and the District of Columbia have agreed to disagree over the future of an often-troubled juvenile facility in Anne Arundel County that houses district delinquents.

In a "satisfactory division of agreement" statement issued last night, the disputing parties said the district government will move forward with construction of a new Oak Hill facility near the existing one on a 40-acre section of a federally owned site adjacent to Fort Meade.

Though Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin has long fought to relocate the detention center into the district, the Maryland Democrat characterized yesterday's "agreement" as a partial victory because Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty is now willing to cooperate with federal and state officials about the disposition of the remaining 848 acres of the property.

"The District will cooperate with the federal government, the State of Maryland, Anne Arundel County and Members of Congress concerning the division of the remaining acreage," said the statement, which was released last night by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's nonvoting delegate to Congress.

Neither Norton nor Fenty could be reached last night.

According to the agreement, Cardin is reserving the right to continue fighting development of the new center. He has introduced a Senate bill to close the juvenile facility and divide the land between Anne Arundel County and the National Security Agency.

"Whether I'll succeed or not, I don't know," he said last night. He said the juveniles at Oak Hill should be moved closer to their families.

"I think the district should be more aggressive about pursuing a facility in their own territory," Cardin said. "I'm not happy that they're going ahead with the new construction at Oak Hill."

Neighbors have fought for nearly three decades to close Oak Hill, which is across a state highway from NSA. Built in 1967 on federal land granted to the District of Columbia in 1929, Oak Hill once housed more than 240 juveniles. It's now home to about 60.

Negotiations over the juvenile facility had taken on a sense of urgency during the past two weeks after Maryland officials, to their surprise, learned last month that work was imminent on a new detention center near the existing facility.

Washington officials said at the time that the groundbreaking was expected within a few weeks, and that the new center was planned to open next May.

Cardin, who as a member of the House fought for years to relocate Oak Hill, reacted by placing a hold on federal legislation to allow Fenty to take over his city's school system.

The schools takeover, a key initiative of the Fenty administration, requires congressional approval. The bill has cleared the House and is expected to be approved by the Senate.

Cardin removed the hold on Monday, after a handshake agreement with Norton. He said his legislative maneuver didn't affect the schools legislation, which he supports.

"It was never my intention to delay that bill," he said. "My intention was to get their attention, and we succeeded."

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, who supports relocation of the facility, said the expected groundbreaking creates a "sense of urgency for immediate legislative action."

The impending military expansion at Fort Meade - bringing an estimated 20,000 jobs during the next decade - is also creating demand for more office space for defense contractors and affordable housing, and the county has wanted to establish a regional park on its western boundary.

Cardin's legislation, co-sponsored by fellow Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, also a Democrat, is before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. A House version filed by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes is in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"I am hopeful the senators can build the strong bipartisan coalition to move this legislation in the not-too-distant future," said Leopold, a Republican who supports Cardin's legislation.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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