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Influx at bases a test for Md.

With the Pentagon's military base realignment expected to bring tens of thousands of jobs to Maryland in the next five years, officials warned yesterday that state and local governments will have to act quickly to deal with the influx, despite mounting opposition among voters to new growth.

Speaking at a daylong seminar sponsored by area homebuilders, state, local and military officials said that the incoming O'Malley administration and the General Assembly that convenes next month must find the money to pay for costly highway and transit projects, school expansions, and water and sewer upgrades to accommodate the 40,000 to 60,000 new jobs expected to be created by the base realignment.

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"There are significant infrastructure challenges," said J. Michael Hayes, director of military and economic affairs for the state Department of Business and Economic Development, at Martin's West conference center in Baltimore County.

Though planners can't be sure how many families will relocate to Maryland and where they'll settle, officials hope to have estimates of needed projects firmed up by next month.

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Meanwhile, Hayes and others say, any moves to increase residential development face potential resistance from suburban residents who elected slow-growth candidates in local elections last month. In Aberdeen this week, voters rejected the annexation of 500 acres beyond the city limits to make way for more than 1,000 new homes, townhouses and condominiums - a project that had been touted as a response to the base realignment.

"The environment continues to deteriorate, and it becomes increasingly difficult to implement BRAC properly," said Anirban Basu, an economic forecasting consultant, who spoke to the group. Turnover in the governor's mansion and in the administration of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, among others, also slows government response at a critical time, he said.

Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County are expected to get the lion's share of the new jobs as a result of the base realignment and closings elsewhere. But planners project that fewer than half of the 28,000 households coming with those jobs will settle in the two counties. The rest are expected to live in surrounding counties, and others might commute from out of state rather than move to Maryland.

Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is losing some jobs and adding others, is expected to see a net increase of 8,200 workers on the 72,000-acre base. Up to twice that many jobs will be added around the installation by defense contractors and other businesses that serve the expanding community.

"When you bring in 8,000 high-paying government jobs, those people need to live somewhere, they need someplace to fill up their cars," said Col. John Wright, the proving ground's commander, who blamed Baltimore's rush-hour gridlock for his late arrival at the session.

Fort Meade, meanwhile, is expected to add 5,300 jobs from defense operations being transferred there. The overall growth impact is likely to be greater, however, because the National Security Agency is expected to increase its work force there by an even larger amount.

Up to one-fifth of the Defense Information System Agency workers whose jobs are being transferred to Fort Meade from Arlington, Va., already live in Maryland, and others living in Northern Virginia have indicated that they would commute rather than move. While that would reduce pressure on the region's tight housing market, it could aggravate traffic problems in a region that has the nation's second-longest average commute times, said Dunbar Brooks, a planner with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

Richard E. Hall, manager of environmental planning with the Maryland Department of Planning, noted that the base-related growth comes on top of significant population increases already occurring in the state. Planners project a growth of about 300,000 households statewide over the next 15 years.

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Meanwhile, Hall noted, all of the development projected for Carroll, Harford and Cecil counties in the next 25 years won't fit into their designated growth areas. Unless changes are made, he said, APG-related household growth could be "deflected" to Pennsylvania, to the upper Eastern Shore or to Baltimore.

"We'll have NIMBY issues, tough issues about accommodating future growth," he predicted, from people who don't want it in their backyards. With counties and municipalities struggling to keep up with their communities' growing needs for water and wastewater treatment, the state planner said, "We're going to be looking not for a silver bullet, but a silver pipe."

Hayes, who is spearheading statewide planning for the base realignment, said water shortages in northeastern Maryland could stymie development there to accommodate the new workers and their families. Others said a lack of infrastructure and environmental limits on wastewater discharges, among other factors, could also slow growth. As for providing the needed housing, that is a local decision, Hayes said.

"Ultimately, these are zoning issues," he said. "The arguments won't be easy, but the mechanisms are in place."

Harford County Executive David R. Craig told the group of homebuilders and officials at Martin's West that his county has $800 million in infrastructure needs, including building or expanding schools, water and wastewater plants, and the landfill. He defended his decision this year to veto a rezoning bill, saying that he would have been ousted by the voters in favor of someone less favorable to development had he gone along with it.

"Smart growth is better than no growth," said Wright, the proving ground's commander. Despite Aberdeen residents' rejection of annexation, he said, growth is "coming, no matter what."

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In Baltimore, officials bent on reversing the city's long-term population decline have said that they would welcome new residential development. Planners estimate that the city could accommodate up to 73,000 more households, Hall said.

Army, state and local officials insist that the economic benefits of the base realignment far outweigh the potential problems of accommodating the rapid rise in the region's population. Many of the defense jobs are high-paying ones, officials say, and the job influx should bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional sales and income tax revenue to pay for the government facilities and services the new arrivals will demand.

"It's a challenge more than a problem - a challenge that we all share," said Col. Kenneth McCreedy, Fort Meade's commander.

Homebuilders, hoping to rebound from a housing downturn by planning for the base job influx, are waiting for signals from government decision-makers.

"It's clear that the real impact isn't going to be felt until 2011 or 2012, when the jobs finally migrate here," said John Kortecamp, director of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, which sponsored the session to help its members figure out where and how much housing to construct. "The infrastructure required to support that isn't on the agenda, and it needs to be, soon.

"The good news is, we got the jobs," he added. "The bad news is, they require housing and transportation."

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tim.wheeler@baltsun.com


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