Public works board to consider Md. housing agency move

The state Board of Public Works is expected to vote today on a contract that would clear the way for the Department of Housing and Community Development to move from its park-like campus in Crownsville to a transit hub in Prince George's County.

The board's members — Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — are expected to hear from both supporters and opponents of the hotly debated move to New Carrollton.

A spokesman for Franchot, Andrew Friedson, said the comptroller was reviewing the deal overnight and anticipates asking questions. The move would fulfill a long-standing O'Malley commitment to Prince George's.

Scott Peterson, spokesman for Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, said his boss plans to attend the board meeting to support the award of a leasing contract to Rockville Berman Enterprises NC Station LLC, which would provide the new headquarters at a cost of $58 million for 15 years.

Meanwhile, Anne Arundel County Executive Laura A. Neuman said she has sent letters to the three board members urging them to block the relocation. She said she might also make a personal appearance at the meeting to make a case that the move to New Carrollton would come at an "exponentially higher cost" than remaining in Crownsville.

"If you look at the numbers, they don't add up," she said. Neuman said about 150 of the roughly 400 workers at the Crownsville headquarters live in Anne Arundel and would have to commute to New Carrollton. For a worker who lives in Annapolis, the move to New Carrollton would add about 20 minutes to the drive each way.

O'Malley administration officials say the move reflects the state's commitment to smart growth and its policy of encouraging development at major transit hubs. New Carrollton is one of the largest in the state, with a Metro station and connections to MARC, Amtrak and many local and commuter bus lines in addition to a planned connection to the Purple Line light-rail project.

Prince George's officials see the department as the anchor tenant for a transit-oriented development project that will include retail, offices and housing. They also see it as rectifying a historic lack of state investment in Maryland's second-largest county.

"It's a critical economic development opportunity but it's also a matter of fairness for the citizens of Prince George's County, who represent 15 percent of the state's population," said David Iannucci, senior adviser to Baker for economic development. "We have an opportunity to create a town center that will take advantage of a Metro station."

But Del. Ron George, an Anne Arundel Republican, said he plans to attend the board meeting to argue that the cost of moving outweighs any possible benefits. He put the cost of operating the state-owned Crownsville headquarters at $1.5 million a year, compared with the annual lease payments of $3.9 million called for in the proposed contract.

"To me, it doesn't make sense," George said. "It's all part of the governor making a campaign promise of moving a major state agency to Prince George's County."

George said he's heard from many constituents who work at the housing department.

"They're not happy about this move," he said, adding that the workers are too "scared for their jobs" to protest publicly.

Michael Gaines, assistant secretary for real estate at the Department of General Services, said employees will not have to pay anything for parking at New Carrollton for the first five years of the lease. The state plans to provide 350 parking spaces for employees and state vehicles at a cost of $85 per month each — or $357,000 annually.

During that five years, Gaines said, the state will address the issue of the transportation costs to employees. If the board approves the pact, the state would occupy the site in the summer of 2015.

In a letter to the board, Del. Steven R. Schuh, also an Anne Arundel Republican, called the state's planned spending on parking "a clear indication that many of the workers will actually be driving to work despite its location along a transit line."

Gaines said the long-term benefits of the move will outweigh any short-term costs. He said moving the department headquarters to New Carrollton is expected to give impetus to a project worth $165 million, generating sales and property taxes that will bring at least $8 million a year to the state and Prince George's.

Officials say the state would work with Anne Arundel to come up with a redevelopment plan that will put the current housing department building — as well as the closed Crownsville State Hospital — back on the county tax rolls.

But Neuman said that for now at least, the county is not participating in any joint planning effort.

"We are not giving up on the possibility that they reconsider this move," she said.

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