Proposed lease could give Arundel control of maintenance at city's park


Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County officials plan to meet again today to discuss the future of Fort Smallwood Park, including a proposal for the county to take over maintenance of the dilapidated park by leasing it from the city.

County Executive Janet S. Owens has pushed since January to acquire the 100-acre park on the Patapsco River in northern Anne Arundel County, and her campaign apparently received a boost from Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley during his monthly talk show last month on WBAL Radio.

According to city and county officials, O'Malley indicated he supported the idea of leasing the 77-year-old park to the county.

"We're taking a close look at the lease option," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley. She added, "Within a month, we should have a clear decision."

The terms and conditions of such a lease proposal have yet to be specified, though the city is not interested in selling the land, Guillory said.

Anne Arundel officials said they, too, are optimistic that an agreement can be reached after a decade of failed attempts to broker a deal with the city.

"The county executive is hopeful that the city will consider a long-term lease arrangement," said county spokeswoman Jody Couser.

Any agreement would likely focus on maintenance issues at the park near Pasadena and clarify police jurisdiction there. The park is a popular destination for sightseers, anglers and hunters, and offers panoramic views of Baltimore's ports and the Patapsco River.

The county has long sought to claim Fort Smallwood, initially noting the city's lack of care for the park. Many of the decades-old buildings are in disrepair and covered in lead-based paint, which has contaminated the structures and surrounding grounds.

Many of the fences put up by city workers to keep patrons from those areas have fallen down or disappeared. Those fences were installed in response to positive tests for lead paint in 1998.

Officials with the city Recreation and Parks Department insist that the park is safe.

County officials estimate that repairs and cleanup could cost as much as $10 million. They have said any purchase price would have to factor in that need.

Baltimore officials contend that nearly $1 million in renovations to a water-treatment plant there demonstrate the city's commitment to maintaining the park.

Anne Arundel officials have also pointed to security concerns of neighbors, who say that the inattention of city police to patrol Fort Smallwood in recent years has contributed to an influx of crime in and around the park. Residents have said the park attracts drug deals, drinking, drag racing and vandalism, although city and county police officials contend that some of the drug-related problems are overstated.

Fort Smallwood is a nine-mile drive from the city line, and nearby residents have complained that city police officers are too busy deterring crime in Baltimore to provide a true security presence at the park.

Although the city and county police share jurisdiction of the park, a county police spokesman said in late January that Anne Arundel officers don't routinely patrol there.

"We would not go in there without ... an agreement, considering that they own the park," Anne Arundel police Lt. Joseph Jordan said.

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