Putting tech park in con­ser­va­tion moves for­ward

Rec­om­men­da­tions for sher­iff’s pen­sion plan, trust fund ap­proved

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com

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.

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