Rus­sian re­treat cen­ter called good neigh­bor

Record Observer - - News - By CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY AND HAN­NAH COMBS bay­times@kibay­times.com

CEN­TRE­VILLE — The Rus­sian re­treat cen­ter in Queen Anne’s County was closed by the U.S. State Depart­ment on Fri­day, Dec. 30, end­ing a 44-year history in the county.

The cen­ter has been a peace­ful neigh­bor and hasn’t been a prob­lem over the years, said county of­fi­cials. Some­times, the Rus­sians would have camp­fires out­side and sing Rus­sian songs, but it wasn’t an is­sue, said one of­fi­cial who lives nearby.

As part of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sanc­tions against Rus­sia for in­ter­fer­ing with the elec­tion, the State Depart­ment closed the cen­ter’s fa­cil­i­ties and ac­cess points to the 45-acre prop­erty at Pioneer Point, said a State Depart­ment spokesman.

“The State Depart­ment will se­cure and main­tain the prop­er­ties in keep­ing with our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” said the spokesman.

The prop­erty is owned by the Gov­ern­ment of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, which in 1995 took over the prop­erty from the Soviet Union, which had owned it since 1972, ac­cord­ing to state prop­erty records. Fronting the Cor­sica River, the site is nes­tled in a pri­vate, up­scale com­mu­nity about six miles west of Cen­tre­ville.

A maze of nar­row, pri­vate roads in a wooded area lead to the prop­erty, which has an ad­dress of 115 Town Point Lane, Cen­tre­ville. The site has a three-story, 25,000-square-foot brick home built in 1900.

On Fri­day, Dec. 30, many me­dia out­lets, which were sta­tioned down the road from the site, said they saw a few trucks and buses go in and out of the prop­erty. But oth­er­wise, there wasn’t a lot of ac­tiv­ity, they said.

On a road lead­ing to the prop­erty, sev­eral un­marked cars blocked the en­trance. The house couldn’t be seen clearly from the road. A man, who would iden­tify him­self only as “with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” said the site was pri­vate prop­erty and the me­dia must go to the pub­lic land down the road. All com­ments were be­ing han­dled by the State Depart­ment, he said.

Queen Anne’s County Sher­iff Gary Hof­mann said the cen­ter has “never been an is­sue or con­cern from a law en­force­ment per­spec­tive.”

Steve Wil­son, pres­i­dent of the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers, lives across the Cor­sica River from the site.

“They have a camp there and keep to them­selves. They have al­ways been very pri­vate,” he said.

Some­times peo­ple at the cen­ter with their kids build camp­fires and sing Rus­sian songs on the beach, Wil­son said. He said he could hear them singing be­cause their voices carry across the wa­ter, but he didn’t con­sider it an is­sue.

“They were to­tally nice and be­nign neigh­bors,” he said.

Wil­son also re­mem­bered that John Raskob, who built the Em­pire State Build­ing, de­vel­oped the prop­erty in the 1930s. Af­ter that, there were two other prop­erty own­ers un­til the Soviet Union bought it in 1972.

The prop­erty is val­ued by the state of Mary­land at $7.3 mil­lion but is tax ex­empt, said Jonathan See­man, di­rec­tor of Bud­get, Fi­nance, and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy for the Queen Anne’s County gov­ern­ment.

County Com­mis­sioner Mark An­der­son said he re­mem­bers a friend of his was con­sid­er­ing buy­ing the prop­erty in the 1970s be­fore the Soviet Union de­cided to buy it. Other than that, he doesn’t re­mem­ber any is­sues about the site.

“It’s like they aren’t even there,” An­der­son said.

Some res­i­dents, in­ter­viewed on Fri­day, had mixed re­ac­tions.

A propane de­liv­ery man from a Cen­tre­ville busi­ness, who wished to re­main anony­mous, said he “de­liv­ered propane out there .... Seemed se­cre­tive, re­ally didn’t seem to want us in the house.”

A Cen­tre­ville woman said she al­ways felt like there was some­thing go­ing on there. She said she didn’t un­der­stand why the Rus­sians had to have prop­erty there “in the mid­dle of nowhere.” It was some­thing out of a movie, she said.

Ch­eryl Tay­lor, who works for a lo­cal re­tail store, said the Rus­sians would come in and spend a lot of money.

“I don’t think it’s fair they don’t have to pay taxes, though,” she said.

She said she ob­served that the last man and woman to stay at the com­pound were not very friendly. The man be­fore them was “re­ally very sweet,” she said.

PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

The me­dia was sta­tioned just out­side the pri­vate com­mu­nity near Cen­ter­ville where the Rus­sian re­treat cen­ter is lo­cated Fri­day, Dec. 30. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials made the me­dia stay out and set up on pub­lic land.

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