In 2006 Fort Meade, like a number of other Army installations, began negotiations to lease unused Army land to a private developer for construction of an office park through what is known in the commercial real estate industry as an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL).
At the time, this was seen as an opportunity for installations to get in-kind services — in Fort Meade’s case a new golf course — in exchange for the right to build on federal land.
Much has changed in our area since 2006, not the least of which is substantial office construction adjacent to Fort Meade at The National Business Park and, more recently, Arundel Preserve. While the originally proposed office park was expected to house many of the contractors relocating to be near the agencies that relocated under the 2005 Base Relocation and Closing Act (BRAC), the delays in completing the EUL deal have led those companies to lease space elsewhere. BRAC moves were completed in 2011 and, though NSA and the U.S. CyberCommand continue to grow, the contractors who support them have already established footprints in other developments.
The deal has changed from Fort Meade’s perspective, as well. The once-promised golf course has been taken off the table, and now [it] will receive only a floating cash payment in place of the revenue-generating golf course. (Few people realize that military installation golf courses generate net revenue to support other activities, such as child development centers, youth programs and fitness facilities.)
Furthermore, the post is being asked by designated developer Trammell Crow to provide infrastructure support for the new, now unnecessary office park. These are improvements, such as utility connections and road enhancements, that private developers in Anne Arundel County are asked to pay for as a matter of course; the expected population of more than 2,000 employees far exceeds the capacity of already-failing Reece Road and [the project] would normally be precluded from developing without such improvements.
The EUL project has a distinct and unfair edge over private developments, due to its location on federal land. First, it is not required to obtain county permitting and construction approvals, in itself a major time saver (and time is money in the development world); second, [it] cannot be required to pay state and local fees, including impact fees, water and sewer connection fees, state reforestation fees and more; third, [it does] not have to meet county requirements for adequate public facilities (APF), hence [it doesn’t] have to make road improvements. And finally, [it is] are not required to pay property taxes, though a likely much smaller payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) will be negotiated with the county.
By statute, an EUL agreement must promote the national defense or be in the public interest. Clearly neither is still true, and existing developments that pay full taxes and fees will be disadvantaged by this project.
So, if Fort Meade is no longer getting what [it was] promised, if the office market for this project no longer exists and if the county will be left to deal with the impacts created by the EUL, why is the project moving forward? Negotiations are in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers, and it turns out it receives payment approaching $1 million — but only if and when a lease agreement is signed with Trammell Crow. That’s hardly an incentive to do what is best for Fort Meade and the community.
A number of local developers initially bid for the right to construct offices under the Enhanced Use Lease agreement in 2006. All prepared offers that included construction of the new Fort Meade Golf Course and other in-kind improvements. Now that significant changes have been made to the advertised terms, if this project is to move forward, it should be rebid to offer all interested parties the opportunity to propose under the new terms.
But barring that, Trammell Crow should be required to at least provide the infrastructure and improvements in support of this new development that would be asked of any other Anne Arundel developer.
— Claire Louder, president & CEO, West County Chamber