A little-used portion of the Route 198 corridor in Laurel could turn into a growth magnet for accommodating the job influx at Fort Meade if the National Park Service allows water and sewer lines to be extended under Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Federal officials will hold a public hearing this week in Laurel to discuss the tentative plan to allow utilities to be brought across the federally controlled parkway, which would be a major victory for the developers of Arundel Gateway, a $500 million project of homes, shops and offices proposed along the south side of the forested, two-mile corridor.
County and state officials view that section of Route 198, about a mile from Fort Meade, as an optimum place to concentrate high-density construction over the next four years, during which Fort Meade is expected to expand by 22,000 jobs
Separately, state highway officials are spending $4.5 million to study widening that section of Route 198 from two to four lanes.
"That's a key corridor with tremendous road access," said Claire Louder, executive director of the West County Chamber of Commerce. "The only thing that has held it back is a lack of infrastructure. We would like the park service to allow for infrastructure to come into that area."
The utility extension would also allow Anne Arundel County to provide additional water access to Maryland City and Russett, which have had water shortages in recent years.
Wednesday night's meeting is part of an environmental assessment, which began Jan. 8, that could grant permission to Anne Arundel County to place utility lines under the parkway. The primary beneficiary, Ribera Development LLC, the Arundel Gateway developer, would spend at least a few million dollars to bring utilities to the 300-acre development site.
The utility access would remove a major hurdle for Ribera, which still needs county permission to rezone the industrial property to allow for 1,600 townhouses, condominiums and duplexes with a 250,000- square-foot village center.
Ribera President John C. Stamato said the project is ideally located to control growth related to Fort Meade's expansion. Plans will remain conceptual until Ribera gets the utility and zoning approvals. Stamato can pursue plans only for warehouses and hotels under the current zoning.
The prospect of not getting rezoning rankled officials at Parkland Properties of Millersville, the project partner that planned to build the village center. One of its representatives, Jay Baldwin, threatened that if the county did not grant a zoning change, that group would build warehouses instead, possibly throwing the project into disarray.
Last month, Ribera acquired an option to purchase Parkland's nearly 50 acres at the heart of the proposed Arundel Gateway, Stamato said.
Also, Stamato said, commercial developer Greenberg Gibbons Commercial Corp. has been brought in to build the village center. Greenberg Gibbons has overseen the Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole and the Village at Waugh Chapel.
"We are looking forward to doing a project that meets the needs of BRAC," Stamato said of the base realignment process.
That portion of the Route 198 corridor, between the parkway and Route 32, is in a designated growth area. Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said that area has "always been intended" to receive water and sewer service.
He, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House majority leader, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes have written to leaders to U.S. Interior Department officials supporting the utility extension under the parkway, said Bill Line, a park service spokesman.
A key consideration for the park service is preserving the integrity of the forested parkway and the adjacent Patuxent Research Refuge, which backs up to the Arundel Gateway property, Line said. Specifically, federal officials want assurances that the development will be visible from the highway.
The evaluation of the environmental assessment, which could last six months or longer, will in part determine height restrictions and the size of the forested buffers around Arundel Gateway, Stamato said.
Environmentalists say Arundel Gateway would destroy a tributary to the Little Patuxent River, along with many acres of forest and habitat. The tract is designated within the county's greenways system.
"Everybody seems to think that once you mention BRAC, the environmental concerns go out the window," said Anne Pearson, director for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities, who met last week with Stamato.
Stamato said he can better address the environmental impact once more regulatory hurdles are overcome and the scope of the project can be determined.
"We know the environmental community will be looking over our shoulder," he said. "We will do a good job to meet the standards."
The National Park Service's public hearing will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Maryland City fire station, 3498 Fort Meade Road in Laurel.