State outlines plan for smoothing BRAC expansion

Initiatives would steer some business and residential growth to Baltimore and other communities

November 20, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

Maryland officials outlined yesterday a smorgasbord of initiatives intended to smooth the way for an influx in the next few years of thousands of high-tech defense workers and their families.

The plan, the product of nearly six months of meetings between state and local officials, calls for a variety of moves to steer at least some of the expected business and residential growth into Baltimore City and other communities near the expanding bases, particularly Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade.

One of the more notable proposals calls for creation of so-called "BRAC zones," where tax credits or other incentives might encourage base-related business and residential growth in areas served by public transit and in need of revitalization.

But the price tag for those "BRAC zones" and many of the other efforts remains unknown as officials flesh out the details and work out potential costs for next year's state budget.

"This is a draft," stressed Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is overseeing the state's base-growth planning efforts. But he said state officials want to capitalize on the rare economic opportunities presented by the influx of at least 15,000 defense workers and their families while ensuring that the growth does not degrade the standard of living of the existing population.

"We'll work to protect a quality of life that's enviable and that we enjoy," Brown said.

Nearly $800 million in highway, transit, utility and school projects targeted for counties affected by base growth - and unveiled late last week - had been in the works before the base-realignment planning process began. But state officials said more projects are likely to be added as more needs are identified and funds become available.

The plan calls for establishment of a $10 million fund for the state's colleges and universities to offer advanced courses and training over the next three years so local residents may qualify for high-tech, defense-related jobs moving here.

The administration also is seeking potentially controversial legislation enabling state and local governments to seek payments in lieu of taxes from private developers building commercial projects on military bases.

The lieutenant governor said new legislation was needed to give local and state officials more "flexibility" in seeking such payments. Anne Arundel County and state officials have been pressing, so far without success, for the developer of an office park at Fort Meade to help defray the costs of road improvements needed to ease traffic around the base.

Army officials are negotiating deals with private developers to lease land at Meade and Aberdeen for large office complexes, in return for the developers building a golf course and other improvements. Army officials have vowed to cooperate with local and state officials in addressing any off-base impacts of those private developments, but have warned that any move to tax or charge fees to such projects may kill them.

Though military land is exempt from property tax, Brown said state officials believe the law allows taxes to be levied on any private buildings and other facilities constructed on the bases. New legislation calling for payments in lieu of taxes would offer all parties a way to negotiate how to share the financial burdens of growth, he said.

"We believe this is a positive development - a recognition by the state that this is an issue," said Robert Leib, special assistant to Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold.

Col. Kenneth McCreedy, installation commander of Fort Meade, praised the state's base-growth plan in a written statement issued through a spokeswoman. He vowed to "continue to work closely" with civilian officials and did not address the tug of war over the Army's plans to lease part of Fort Meade to Trammell Crow Co. for construction of a private office park on the edge of the base.

Local officials who attended a briefing on the plan praised its breadth, while pointing out that many details and specific funding commitments were lacking.

"It's a start," said Kent Menser, base realignment coordinator for Howard County. He said Howard and Anne Arundel officials have yet to identify all the needs they may have for accommodating growth at Fort Meade.

James C. Richardson, economic development director for Harford County, said he was pleased that the state plan included making a series of traffic-easing intersection improvements around Aberdeen Proving Ground, plus a study of developing a research campus near the base in affiliation with one or more of the state's colleges and universities.

But Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, said she hopes the state can accelerate its plan to expand commuter rail service or it may be too late to help ease traffic around the bases.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

Online

Comprehensive information on BRAC at baltimoresun.com/brac

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