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Surplus land might be sold

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County is looking to shed hundreds of properties in hopes of getting them back on the tax rolls, a prospect that could end up putting about 11 acres in a Crownsville neighborhood into permanent preservation.

The County Council night will hold a public hearing tomorrow on whether to declare surplus land it owns on Glendale Terrace and Laurel Lane in Glen Burnie, Generals Highway near Annapolis and Melvin Avenue in West Annapolis, with the vast majority - 192 lots - in the Herald Harbor community in Crownsville.

County Executive John R. Leopold, who requested the legislation, said the initiative is part of his overall plan to root out waste, make the government leaner and save money.

"The surplus property bills are an example of resources identified by Central Services that will reduce the burden on the taxpayers for the maintenance of the land and will eventually be used more productively," he said.

The county has on its rolls about 1,700 properties, said Central Services Director Frederick G. Schram, each with a certain number of lots. Typically, surplus lots were acquired when residents defaulted on their taxes. The county bought other property with a specific purpose in mind but never put it to use. Most of the lots, he said, are "small slivers of land."

Schram estimated that the county typically declares eight to 10 properties surplus each year but that last year's total was two or three. If the county declares the lots surplus, the council must vote on how to divest the land and approve the sale, Schram said. Selling the lots could take months because of marketing and other tasks, he said.

In April 2006, it sold the Police Department's former Southern District headquarters in Edgewater for about $2 million.

The county benefit from the tax revenues by declaring property surplus and also reduces its liability. Though the land is not in use, there is the risk that someone will have an accident on the property for which the county is held legally responsible.

"We're ridding ourselves of a liability and making money in the process," Schram said.

County Councilman Josh Cohen, an Annapolis Democrat, said most of the property the county is considering declaring surplus in Herald Harbor is unusable because the lots are too small for today's houses, too marshy or on too steep a slope.

"So whatever happens on that property has the potential to affect the quality of life in Rolling Knolls as well as have an environmental impact, because so much of that is undeveloped woodland," Cohen said.

Connie Pumphrey, vice president of the Crownsville Conservancy, sees that firsthand. She encounters raccoons, deer, foxes, rabbits and birds during her walk each morning in Herald Harbor.

"The health of a community is not only its diversity; it's also its wildlife," Pumphrey said.

Situated on the banks of the Severn River, Herald Harbor was designed in the 1920s for summer vacation homes. It consists of thousands of 25-by-100-foot lots.

There has been another boom in the past decade, Pumphrey said. She estimated that 250 homes have been built, bringing the total in the community to nearly 1,000.

"It's created a little bit of a problem because the community is going in a way that nobody thought it would," said County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who moved to Herald Harbor this month. His home is on several lots.

The conservancy wants to buy the surplus land to preserve the green space within "a very densely developed community," Pumphrey said.

The conservancy would not have to pay taxes on the lots because it is a nonprofit organization, Schram said.

The Herald Harbor Citizens Association intends to encourage homeowners to scoop up any surplus lots next to theirs and to leave it as additional green space, said Janet Clauson, the group's president.

"It's good for everybody," she said. "It's not taking land from builders, and it's giving it back to the community."

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