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Volume 15, Issue 19 ~ May 10 - May 16, 2007

Redefining Homeland Security

Anne Arundel repels sprawl at four points on its borders

by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Anne Arundel County defended its borders last week. And it didn’t require an army to do it. Citizens were the soldiers fighting each of these battles. Instead of military mobilization, long-range planning by men and women we elected pushed back the forces of sprawl at three vulnerable points on the county’s perimeter — and gained ground on a fourth.

Southwest Out of the Target

Clearest among the victories is the transformation of 281⁄2 Targeted acres in Waysons Corner to county-owned open space. Instead of the giant retailer surrounded by satellite stores and acres of asphalt, new roads and parades of cars, there’ll be … whatever nature puts there.

Knocking at the door of the undeveloped woodland was shopping center impresario Petrie Ross Ventures, developer with Greenberg Gibbons commercial of the $400 million Annapolis Towne Centre rising at the southwestern gateway to Annapolis in Parole and the Centre at Edgewater on the Safeway site at Route 2. For The Centre at Wayson’s Corner, Petrie Ross planned 260,000 square feet of retail anchored by Target plus another big retailer, small shops, restaurants and a bank plus parking for 600 cars.

Across three ribbons of highway from the proposed Centre but linked by Galloway Creek is the northern range of Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, Glendening Nature Preserve. That was too close for comfort for the wildlife flourishing on Jug Bay’s 1,400 acres, or Patuxent River Park to the northwest.

Outraged citizens organized quickly and vocally as the Lothian Civic Association. Meanwhile, the developer turned in a different direction.

“I met with Walt Petrie a month ago,” Anne Arundel County councilman Ed Reilly told Bay Weekly. “He indicated a preference to sell to the county before any other big-box vendor.”

Making the deal took $6.1 million on the table.

That’s the amount Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold has committed, pending the approval of the council, a big chunk the county’s $11.2 million share of the state controlled Open Space Fund.

Far more costly over time is the tax revenues, jobs and commerce lost.

It’s the kind of decision you make only if you prioritize a higher value — as Leopold says he does.

“I consider myself and all of us temporary stewards of the land, which hold us all in community and which we are responsbile to pass onto future generations,” Leopold said.

To the West, Wal-Mart Withdraws

The next day, May 3, Leopold announced that at the county’s western border at Crofton, a second big-box store was routed as Wal-Mart ended its drive to build a 120,000-plus-square-foot discount and grocery store on 20 acres on the west side of rapidly developing Route 3.

“It is an established principle of this Administration that economic development will not proceed where the infrastructure is not adequate to service that development,” said Leopold in his press release.

Infrastructure is hard pressed on that highway, as the 71-acre Marketplace at Waugh Chapel, developed in 2000 as a “lifestyle center” by Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, spawns into an even larger Waugh Chapel Village South. Other big commercial projects have approval, as well, and the site where Wal-Mart hoped to build is still developable. “We’re hoping to a lesser extent, with less environmental impact and traffic,” Reilly said.

Said Leopold, “I’m really taking my opportunity where I can, even when it’s imperfect. Again, here I had the opportunity to have an impact.”

Here, too, neighbors organized — under the name Crofton First — to prove that the big box was unwelcome.

To Bay Weekly, Reilly described behind-the-scenes maneuvering over roadways that combined with state, environmental and citizen objections to break the deal.

“It was a business decision based on cost,” he said, “and I’m glad to be able to contribute to their cost.”

To the Northwest, Anne Arundel Buys the Farm

Just northwest of busy Route 2, in Gambrills, Anne Arundel County is moving toward leasing the U.S. Naval Academy Dairy Farm. The Academy, which no longer produces its own milk, has been seeking other long-term uses for the 857-acre farm. The Maryland Horse Park and Agricultural Education Center, supported by the Maryland Stadium Authority, was a serious contender for the farm last year. Leopold was outspoken in his disapproval of that controversial proposal, which mobilized citizens both pro and con.

“Traffic is one reason I wanted to speak out against Wal-Mart and against the horse park,” he said in a phone interview.

At Leopold’s urging the county council this week moved toward taking the farm out of development’s way. All seven members signed on to a resolution in favor of the lease, making a representation of good faith to the Naval Academy.

It’s an act of faith in a couple of ways. It came before either the money to pay for the lease or plans on how to use the farm.

“You leverage influence when you can and where it’s appropriate,” Leopold said.

To the Southeast, No Trucks This Year

Down southeast, where Anne Arundel approaches Calvert and cups the Bay, dump trucks are a bit farther away and Advocates for Herring Bay are rejoicing. They’re the citizens who say turning a dredge spoils burrow into a trucking transfer site is not a fit thing to do on scenic narrow roads in a rural enclave.

That was the county’s plan for reactivating a waterfront dredge spoils site leased since 1986. As silty creek after county creek was dredged, the muck would be transported to Town Point by barge or truck. Each creek’s worth would then be dried out and trucked eight miles to the county landfill on Sudley Road.

The new county budget includes no item for trucking dredge spoils out of Town Point. Not that such an item was expected. The county plan doesn’t expect removal to begin until 2008. The news that has truck-transfer opponents rejoicing over councilman Ed Reilly’s intention to keep it out.

Reilly says he’s told County Public Works, the department with the plan, “that if any monies for transferring dredge spoils to any other location are put in next year’s budget, I will remove them.”

That essentially means no trucks in the short term.

This defense of the county’s rural border anticipates the long term.

“I also gave [Public Works] a public challenge to find a way to buy the property, cap it [when it’s full of all the spoils it will hold], grow grass and turn it into open space,” said Reilly.

That future — like Anne Arundel County’s possession of the Naval Academy Dairy Farm — is a long way off. For one, it doesn’t yet have the county executive’s agreement.

About Town Point, Leopold did say, however, “I am always concerned about increased truck traffic. I’m always going to look for the solution least destructive for the environment and quality of life.”

What is certain, however, is that May has been a good month for the defense of Anne Arundel’s borders.

“When you write your story,” Reilly advised, “pull Leopold’s quote on how keeping South County rural is more than a slogan. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

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