Democratic candidate for county executive Steuart Pittman backed a recommendation to convert the Crownsville Hospital Center into a community solar farm during a forum Monday.
The Generals Highway Council of Civic Organizations proposed the plan, which also calls for office space for the nonprofits that operate on the old hospital’s grounds, open space conservation areas and public recreation sites.
"This is the kind of community-driven planning we need throughout our county,” Pittman said. “Too many development projects have been launched behind closed doors at the Arundel Center, and many are destroying the character of our communities and our quality of life."
The Davidsonville Democrat will go up against Republican incumbent Steve Schuh in November. Pittman said, if elected, he will reconsider taking ownership of the state-owned property.
“We’d like to see this taken forward,” said John Hamm, president of the Generals Highway Council of Civic Organizations, a community-based group that represents residents and businesses in the Generals Highway, Route 178 corridor of the county. “We’re delighted that Steuart Pittman has endorsed it.”
A spokesperson for the Maryland Health Care Commission said the State declined to comment.
Pittman isn’t the only one who wants the 544-acre, state-owned land. Chesapeake Sports and Entertainment Group, owners of the Bayhawks major league lacrosse team, has been vying for the space since last year.
The entertainment group proposed a sports complex with restaurants, hotels and and amphitheater.
After hearing concerns from local residents, CSEG President Mark Burdett scaled back the proposal to include a 10,000-seat stadium, Interstate 97 interchange, cycling and walking trails and two dozen multipurpose fields.
Members of the rural community denounced rapid growth and called for greater green-space preservation. About 80 people in the room shot down the Bayhawks’ proposal, mostly citing concerns about potential traffic on Generals Highway and noise.
“I moved here from Montgomery County because I wanted to be part of this untouched community,” said Catherine Saenz, 57, who uses Generals Highway to get to other places in the county. “Trying to get in and out of my community is getting harder and harder.”
Pittman has taken a harsh stance against rapid development in the county.
“I believe that development has been growing too fast,” Pittman said. “We’re not keeping up with some of the infrastructure that we need in some communities to handle that growth.”
Steve Schuh has publicly pushed for more recreational spaces and ball fields in the county.
"Steuart Pittman can't seem to make up his mind about what he believes," Schuh spokesman Owen McEvoy said. "He is against the county purchasing land for new schools, parks and forest preservation, when it comes to the property at Turtle Run in South County and at Belle Grove in North County, but he's okay with it when it's Crownsville?”
The Crownsville Hospital Center has a long and tragic history in Maryland. It was formerly an asylum for black people deemed sick or mentally ill. Patients were abused and tortured in the name of medical research.
Nonprofits use some of the office space on the property grounds. The building has a serious asbestos problem, Pittman said. It will take millions of dollars to erradicate the problem.
Residents and business owners at the meeting opposed the Bayhawks stadium proposal. They encouraged community members to sign an online petition.
“The (Bayhawks’ proposal) will not only significantly impact our community, but the proposal will degrade the existing greenspace and dependent waterways,” said Stephen Bradford, who is on the Generals Highway Council of Civic Organizations’ board of directors.
“Why is preservation an argument? We’re fighting for this. This is our land in our community. It’s owned and operated by the state, we really want to take care of it.”