Putting tech park in conservation moves forward
Recommendations for sheriff’s pension plan, trust fund approved
In a 3-2 vote, the Charles County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday authorized the county’s director of planning and growth management to prepare a proposal for setting aside the 258acre Indian Head Science and Technology Park land parcel as a conservation easement.
During a busy open session that ran most of the day, the commissioners debated the merits of preserving the land in perpetuity or attempting to fulfill the original goal of developing the technology park as a business hub and economic booster for Western Charles County.
In 2005, the county acquired 50 acres of land adjacent to the Maryland Airport from the state of Maryland with the intent of developing a business and technology park there. Three years later, the county signed an agreement with COPT-FD Indian Head LLC to develop the land. However, in 2012 COPT-FD Indian Head terminated the development agreement due to the inability to secure prospective tenants.
Under the terms of the agreement with COPT-FD Indian Head,
the county was obligated to purchase the undeveloped parcels for $6.4 million.
A 2014 study found that the location was unlikely to attract businesses or government contractors.
The wetlands and stream on the property are designated non-tidal wetlands of “special state concern” and a number of rare and endangered species have been identified on or near the property.
The Maryland Environmental Trust agrees in concept with the county’s easement proposal and is working with the Charles County government to identify suitable terms for the donation.
A conservation easement
exchanges some or all of a property owner’s rights to develop land in exchange for tax benefits or financial compensation. The easement would be held by the Conservancy for Charles County.
As long as the property remains under the stewardship of the conservancy or a similar nonprofit or of the county, the property would not be counted on the county’s tax rolls.
Steven Kaii-Ziegler, the director of the county’s planning and growth management department, assured Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) that the proposed easement complies with the county’s 2016 comprehensive plan and state policy. The easement would permit outdoor recreational and hunting activities on the land.
Commissioner Debra Davis
(D) expressed concern that little effort had been expended on trying to attract businesses to the park
“We owe it to our citizens to at least try to market it before we put it into protection for all perpetuity” and write off the $6.4 million, Davis argued.
Davis and Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) voted against the decision to authorize Ziegler and the Maryland Environmental Trust to develop the proposal for the easement.
During Tuesday’s open session, the commissioners also voted to approve the drafting of a letter under Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on behalf of the county commissioners requesting the restoration of funding for a bike/pedestrian lane and shoulder on the new
Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge, or to maintain the existing bridge as a bike and pedestrian crossing.
Letters will also be sent to the Tri-County Council and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments encouraging them to write similar letters to the governor.
The commissioners approved requests to schedule public hearings on community development block grants, the proposed amendment to the Town Center South Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement, and the issuing of $56 million in new bonds for various needed school, sewer and stormwater management projects, as well as for the Billingsley Road roundabout.
The commissioners heard from David Eicholtz, director of county fiscal and
administrative services, that the county’s pension plan is in strong shape and approved Eicholtz’s recommendation to replace two underperforming funds in the Sheriff’s Office Retirement Plan.
Jason Groth, the county’s chief of resource and infrastructure management, reported to the commissioners on planning and development activities related to the Village of Benedict project. One of the challenges facing the project is the location of a suitable septic discharge site, as the land is not currently served by county sewer lines. Groth recommended that his staff complete a study of sewer system alternatives that is now underway and explore alternatives such as constructing a public sewer line.
Also on Tuesday, county parks, recreation and tourism director Eileen Minnick unveiled a new logo, tagline and branding for the county’s tourism program. The new tagline is “Legends, Lore and Room to Explore.” Minnick said that the county has been working for over 18 months with North Star Destination Strategies to identify themes that could be incorporated into an overarching marketing strategy.
The new logo features an oak tree and its reflection in the water below it, with gentle hills in the background. The rebranding will include a website makeover, merchandise, a new group tour profile guide, and even selfie walls. The new designs will be rolled out in the coming months.