Army urged to share cost of local BRAC upgrades

The Baltimore Sun

State and local officials are pressing the Army to do more to help with road and transit upgrades around Maryland's expanding bases because millions of dollars in tax revenues could be lost from huge private office developments being built on the military installations.

"It's problematic for us, quite frankly," state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said yesterday, when asked about the impact of a 15-building, $700 million office complex the Army is negotiating to build at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

The Army has announced it is negotiating the lease of land at both Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County to private developers who would build offices and research space for defense contractors and other tenants. Because the land is federally owned, the developers would not pay property taxes.

Speaking at a meeting in Columbia of the governor's base-realignment subcabinet, Porcari said planners expect "significant" increases in traffic on state-maintained roads and commuter rail lines serving the 5,400-acre Fort Meade.

Planners expect a nationwide military base realignment to bring up to 60,000 jobs and 28,000 households to Maryland, with most of them concentrated around Fort Meade in Anne Arundel and Aberdeen.

"There should be some equity," Porcari said, pointing out that private office parks being developed outside Fort Meade's fence to serve other defense contractors do pay taxes and development impact fees. Those projects also are subject to zoning and regulations meant to ensure there are adequate public facilities to serve the jobs.

Porcari's comments echoed complaints that have been voiced for several months now by Anne Arundel County officials, who contend that local taxpayers could be left to pick up the tab for road improvements and other public facilities serving the development's workers and their families.

Robert Leib, special assistant on base realignment to County Executive John R. Leopold, said the project at Meade would pay millions of dollars in taxes if built on private land.

Trammell Crow Co., a large national real estate developer, has been negotiating since late last year with the Army to build 2 million square feet of office space on Fort Meade, as well as two golf courses, and provide other services under a 50-year lease. The site could handle as many as 10,000 defense contract workers, drawn by the nationwide base realignment and by continuing expansion of the National Security Agency on the base.

Local officials project that about 22,000 jobs are expected to relocate to or near Fort Meade over the next seven or eight years from base drawdowns elsewhere, from growth at NSA and from defense contractors moving to the base to work with the Army or its tenants.

$5 billion estimate

While the economic impact of Fort Meade expansion could reach $1 billion, county officials have toted up a list of $5 billion in road and transit improvements they say they need to serve the work force and its associated households.

"The opportunities are great, but the challenges for infrastructure are formidable," said Leib.

The Army also is negotiating to lease 300 acres at Aberdeen Proving Ground for a business and technology park on that base in Harford County. Opus East LLC of Rockville would construct more than a dozen office and research buildings, and possibly a hotel.

Harford County also stands to miss out on millions of dollars in revenue from that project because federal lands are exempt from property taxes, acknowledged James C. Richardson, the county's economic development director.

But while Harford officials have raised the issue with the Army, Richardson said they aren't pressing the case openly now, but rather waiting to see how the project proceeds. He pointed out that the proving ground is in need of a great deal of infrastructure, "and we're hoping the [deal] helps provide that."

Col. Kenneth McCreedy, commander of Fort Meade, said the "enhanced use lease" being negotiated with Trammell Crow likewise will help pay for needed infrastructure on that base.

He said he sympathized with cash-strapped state and local officials, but rejected any suggestion the Army wasn't paying its fair share for the infrastructure serving the base.

"The Army doesn't have money to write checks," McCreedy said. "If a check gets written, it won't be by the Army."

Swaps proposed

The base commander noted that the Army is being asked to give up a strip of Fort Meade land for the widening of Route 175, which runs past the base, and is also being asked to donate other land to help build a new boulevard to serve the Odenton Town Center.

Even with those land swaps, McCreedy said the Army might still ask Trammell Crow to share some transportation project costs.

Mark Corneal, senior vice president in Trammell Crow's Washington office, said that the developer is still "exploring all kinds of alternatives" and eager to cooperate with all governments. But he pointed out that Route 175 was slated for widening long before his project was announced, and that most of the services provided his project, such as water and sewerage, are supplied by the Army, not the county or the state.

"We're just simply playing by the rules the Army gave us," Corneal said.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is overseeing the base-realignment planning effort for the O'Malley administration, issued a statement after the meeting that appeared aimed at smoothing over any differences.

"We are in conversation with the federal delegation, local and county officials, the military alliances and the private sector," said the statement, read by Brown's spokeswoman. "And everyone is committed to sharing in the infrastructure costs to ensure that we support our bases and their surrounding communities."

"We don't want to torpedo the [lease deal]," agreed Leib, the Anne Arundel base-realignment coordinator.

A spokeswoman for Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, meanwhile, noted that $23 million worth of transportation projects to improve traffic and transit around the state's bases are included in an appropriations bill slated to be voted on by the full Senate, possibly today.

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