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Fort Smallwood deal called near


Anne Arundel County may be on the verge of reaching a 99-year lease agreement with Baltimore to take control of city-owned Fort Smallwood Park.

Most details of the lease agreement are unclear, but according to County Council President Ronald C. Dillon, a Pasadena Republican, the lease would give the county control of the 100-acre park in northern Anne Arundel at the price of $1 a year.

"I'm hundreds of times more optimistic than I was five months ago," Dillon said Wednesday night after being briefed by County Executive Janet S. Owens' office, which is involved in the negotiations.

The County Council president said his understanding is that a deal is within weeks of being struck. City and county officials have been negotiating for months and had been expected to reach an accord by May.

The county has failed for more than a decade to persuade the city to give up Fort Smallwood, but in the months since Owens announced in January that she again wanted Anne Arundel to assume control of the park, county leaders have quietly expressed increasing optimism that a deal would be struck.

Such hope was fueled by comments Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley made on WBAL Radio in March supporting a lease agreement with the county.

Officials for Owens and O'Malley would not confirm details of the potential lease.

Park funds

The County Council's passage Tuesday of the $1.3 billion budget for 2006 has helped generate more momentum. Owens designated $1 million in spending for Fort Smallwood Park.

Dillon said that $100,000 is earmarked for an extensive environmental study of the 78-year-old park, which has decaying buildings and grounds contaminated with lead paint.

He said the county would spend the remaining $900,000 on cleanup and infrastructure improvements, which would include repairing a crumbled seawall and demolishing several collapsed buildings.

Cost estimates

County officials estimated the cost of cleanup months ago at up to $10 million. That figure was largely based on potential environmental damage because of lead paint.

But a report commissioned in 1998 by the city Recreation and Parks Department put the price of such cleanup at $181,000.

The city last year finished a $900,000 replacement of the park's water treatment plant, and officials were expected to begin construction this summer to replace a fishing pier that was destroyed by Tropical Storm Isabel in September 2003.

Dillon said that the environmental study would be done before any lease is signed.

Crime concerns

Area residents say that Baltimore has neglected to secure or maintain the park for years. They said that city police officers rarely drive the nine miles from the Baltimore line to patrol the park, and that crime has festered there.

Although the city and county police share jurisdiction of the park, a county police spokesman said in January that Anne Arundel County officers don't routinely patrol it. A lease could clarify this issue.

Dillon said that his constituents were pleased with the progress that has been made. He said that many people who have asked about the park "saw what it was in its heyday."

"When I tell them the news, I see a lot of excitement in their eyes," he said.

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