Council gives final OK to leasing Navy farm

December 05, 2007|By Phillip McGowan

Anne Arundel County took the final step toward acquiring control of the former Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills, with the County Council's approval of a 30-year lease with the U.S. Navy.

Under the terms of the lease, which goes into effect Feb. 1, the county will pay $240,000 a year for the 857-acre property, which had been considered for a state horse farm, a recreational community center and a sand-and-gravel operation.

"This is the best we could hope for at the dairy farm," Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Democrat who represents Gambrills, said on Monday before the 7-0 vote to approve the resolution.

County officials said they can cover the rent by subleasing part of the property for farming and charging other facility rents and fees. They said they want to convert at least a portion of the site into a botanical garden and plan to seek public input to determine other uses.

County Executive John R. Leopold made a bid for the farm in March as part of his commitment to preserve open land. His move effectively killed efforts by the Maryland Stadium Authority to build a $114 million state horse park there. The county earned exclusive bidding rights with the Navy in June.

County Auditor Teresa Sutherland warned the council on Monday that if the county's revenue plan fails, the local government could be on the hook for paying $7.2 million over the 30 years, but Benoit said the county's cost to lock up such a sizable tract "is pennies on the dollar."

The current tenant, Maryland Sunrise Farms LLC, will remain on for one more year, said Recreation and Parks Director Frank Marzucco, giving the county time to seek bids for the farming operation.

On Dec. 17, the members will consider an emergency spending bill of $150,000, which would cover expenses until the fiscal 2008 budget takes effect in July.

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