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Hospital may sell 546 acres Crownsville center considers land surplus; development possible


In what would be the largest sale of state property in recent years, officials are considering selling a 546-acre chunk of the Crownsville Hospital Center campus in Anne Arundel County, possibly to a housing developer.

The hospital has no use for the land, which is mostly woods and meadows west of Interstate 97, said Ronald Hendler, chief executive officer of the center.

The state Office of Planning could recommend by the end of the month what to do with the land, said state planner Linda Janey. Options are to sell it to a private company, transfer it to another state agency, or turn it over to Anne Arundel County, Janey said.

If a sale were approved, it would be the largest piece of state land to be sold in this decade, according to the state Department of General Services.

Area residents, concerned about development encroaching on a rural area, are calling for preservation of the site and want the county to build sports fields on part of it.

"It was always a primary concern of ours that if the state hospital tried to surplus land that we would want the county to try to preserve it," said Jane Sinclair, a member of a local planning committee that has drawn up a long-term blueprint for the Crownsville area. "Large-lot developments tend to really, dramatically alter the landscape."

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has sold several large parcels in recent years.

A Catonsville developer of communities for senior citizens paid the state $9.1 million for Great Oaks, a home for the developmentally disabled on 152 acres on the Prince George's-Howard county line, which the state shut down in 1996. Chesapeake Hyatt is in the process of buying the 342-acre Eastern Shore Hospital Center in Cambridge for $5 million.

Money from the sales goes into a trust fund established four years ago to pay for services, such as housing and clinics, for the mentally ill.

"It's been a direction for the department in general for all our facilities," said Elizabeth Barnard, director of the Office of Planning and Capital Financing. "Most land has a value, and there has been an effort to put the properties to the best use."

I-97 separates the property from the rest of the 1,600-acre Crownsville campus.

All the hospital's programs as well as schools, treatment centers and offices run by other agencies are east of the highway.

Would keep 10-acre cemetery

The only part of the western parcel that Hendler wants to keep is a 10-acre cemetery dating to 1911, when what was then the state Lunacy Commission opened Crownsville as an asylum for black patients.

Barnard said the health department declared the Crownsville land excess after representatives of Michael T. Rose Consulting Co., a developer and development consulting firm in Laurel, expressed interest in the property in April.

The developer would build homes on large lots on 212 acres and put the remaining 352 acres in an environmental trust that would prevent future development, Barnard wrote to the state Office of Planning in August.

"The department supports a sale of the property, the terms of which would be negotiated with the Department of General Services," Barnard's letter said.

Before the land is put up for sale, the state is polling its agencies and Anne Arundel County to see whether any want it.

The Department of Natural Resources and the county have expressed interest in the land.

County interest uncertain

Spurgeon R. Eismeier Sr., Anne Arundel's real estate manager, isn't sure what the county could do with the property.

Eismeier said the state never responded to his request to view the land, and he's waiting to hear from county department heads on how they might use it.

"This is the largest piece of property that the state has offered for surplus," he said, noting that most excess state parcels are small tracts left over after road projects.

The state Office of Planning will make its recommendations on the property based on the best interest of the state and compatibility with the surrounding community, Janey said.

The state's Smart Growth guidelines call for at least 3.5 units per acre, and development should be steered toward areas that have roads and other infrastructure.

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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