Owens cautions Navy not to renege


In a preemptive effort to keep redevelopment of the former David Taylor Research Center on track, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has fired off a stern letter to Navy officials warning them not to renege on past promises or delay conversion of the former base to a high-tech business park.

"I regret to inform you that, if the Navy reneges on its agreement, the county will not accept the property," Owens said in the letter faxed Tuesday to Harry H. Zimmerman, director of the Navy's Base Closure Program Office at the Washington Navy Yard.

"The county's painstakingly created plan to redevelop the David Taylor Research Center depends on this small accommodation by the Navy, and the county simply has spent too much time and money to change course at this point in the process," the letter said.

The "small accommodation" refers to a deal brokered last fall in which the Navy agreed to hand off the 26.5-acre site to the county not in one chunk but in parcels based on the locations of existing businesses. It is a means of land transfer that is unusual, but not unique in the convoluted world of military base conversions.

Owens' terse letter was sent on the heels of a recent - and much discussed - meeting between Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Republican whose district includes the site, and Navy officials.

Vitale met a week ago with four Navy officials at the Washington offices of Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, she said yesterday, adding that the congressman set up the meeting so that she could clear up nagging concerns by community residents.

When county officials heard of the Capitol Hill session, they were suspicious.

"People were calling me and asking me if I went down to D.C. to kill the deal," Vitale said. "Absolutely not. I have never tried to kill the deal. I have tried to understand the traffic, fix the traffic and quell the concerns of the public."

The Owens administration interpreted the meeting as 11th-hour meddling by a council member and a congressman who have not been involved in closed negotiations between the county, the Navy and Annapolis Partners, the development group that plans to spend $200 million to turn the site into a business park.

Her letter indicates that Owens is worried that the Navy might reconsider its decision to transfer the base to the county by parcels, a deal the county fought for so that existing businesses could continue operating at the site after private developers took over.

Navy officials could not be reached for comment last night.

County officials are worried that the meeting - and questions raised by Gilchrest - could pose new problems for the beleaguered and much delayed project.

"I think the Navy takes seriously any inquiry they get from a congressman," said Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's special projects coordinator. "I think this is an effort to retard the progress of the David Taylor project. All we want to do is get it done."

A spokesman for Gilchrest said the congressman has no wish to delay the project but needs accurate information about the conversion process and redevelopment plan to answer constituents' questions. Gilchrest has received hundreds of letters and e-mails about the project, said his chief of staff, Tony Caligiuri.

"If the residents were happy about this project, then we would gladly move on to something else," Caligiuri said. "We are not looking for work here, but we get inundated with complaints. We have no choice but to get involved."

The redevelopment project, contentious from the start because of its location on environmentally sensitive banks of the Severn River, is in its sixth year of negotiations. It is a year behind schedule.

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