Anne Arundel plans to turn Navy dairy farm into a garden

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County will seek to convert the former Naval Academy Dairy Farm into a community garden and botanical garden after its bid for the prized 857 acres won initial approval yesterday.

The county will begin exclusive lease negotiations with the Navy on June 25, said Navy spokesman John S. Verrico. If a final agreement is reached, the county will solicit ideas from the public on the future of the Gambrills farm.

County Executive John R. Leopold, whose interest in the site earlier this year helped drive out a proposal for a state-run horse park, pledged yesterday that the site will retain its rural identity.

"Most farms in Anne Arundel County have been passed on from generation to generation," Leopold said. "We would like to continue that legacy and guarantee that our precious agricultural land and woodlands are preserved forever."

Leopold said he would like the current tenant, Maryland Sunrise Farms LLC, an organic farm operation, to maintain a presence on the site a few miles east of Fort Meade.

Maryland Sunrise Farms, which has worked the farm since 2001, growing produce and field crops and raising dairy heifers and beef, made a lease proposal to the Navy before the March 19 deadline. Its current lease is up in February.

"We are very interested in being part of the county's plan for the land," Marian Fry, a partner in Maryland Sunrise Farms, said yesterday.

The farm, which produced milk for Naval Academy midshipmen from 1917 to 1998, was eyed for a $114.2 million state horse park, but the Maryland Stadium Authority threw in the towel after Leopold's administration made a lease bid. State officials said that support by county leaders was crucial to making the project a reality.

Since taking office six months ago, Leopold has secured 559 acres of state land in Crownsville and 30 acres in Lothian, where a developer intended to build a shopping center across the street from nationally recognized freshwater wetlands.

During budget deliberations last month, the County Council pledged its support for Leopold's lease bid. County officials said they had enough reserve funds to make the deal go through.

"My focus is on the community garden aspect and the current leasee," Leopold said. "Those are on the front burner."

County officials declined to say how much the county had bid, and Verrico declined to say why Anne Arundel's bid was more attractive than the others. Navy officials have repeatedly declined to acknowledge the number of bids or the identities of those bidding.

Aside from Anne Arundel County and Maryland Sunrise Farms, Chaney Enterprises and Reliable Contracting Co. Inc. have confirmed making a joint proposal for a sand-and-gravel mining operation. Two other potential bidders - the YMCA of Central Maryland and the Halle Cos. - backed off from making formal lease bids.

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