David Taylor project could get boost from Congress

Year's defense bill includes provision on military lab

By ERIN COX and KATIE ARCIERI, Staff Writers
The Captal, Published December 13, 2007

Developers of the rusting David Taylor site may have found a way to push forward plans for an office park and 100-room hotel at the mouth of the Severn River. A provision tucked into this year's National Defense Authorization Act clears hurdles to move a lone military research lab that the developers have said prevented them from financing the project and has stalled progress for five years.

The final version of the act passed the House of Representatives last night and the Senate is expected to pass it by next week.

Anne Arundel County chose to turn over the former Naval research station to the Annapolis Partners development firm in 2000. The developers promised to reinvent the 46-acre waterfront property across the river from the Naval Academy as a major job center.

The deal included a caveat that the redevelopment would accommodate the Joint Spectrum Center lab, a military installation that develops technology from electromagnetic spectrum research.

Annapolis Partners has said the project is impossible to finance without moving the lab to Fort George G. Meade.

The provision passed last night "doesn't actually guarantee the move, but it clears the hurdles to move the Joint Spectrum Center if the Department of Defense deems it in the best interest of national defense," said Tony Caligiuri, chief of staff for Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Kent, whose district includes the David Taylor site.

For years, Annapolis Partners lobbied to move the center to Fort Meade, but faced federal obstacles because no agency was specifically responsible for the move. The language included in the federal defense bill represent the most progress the developers have made toward that goal.

In particular, the bill grants the secretary of defense authority to move Joint Spectrum without an act of Congress if he deems it in the interest of national security and can negotiate with the developer to defray the cost of relocation. Additionally, the bill launches a study of whether Joint Spectrum currently has the level of anti-terrorism security required of such an installation.

A finding that the lab does not meet the requirements would bolster the argument that Joint Spectrum should be moved to Fort Meade. That study is due to congressional defense committees by May 30.

Officials from the Defense Information Systems Agency, Joint Spectrum's parent organization, said Joint Spectrum's special research requires its own building, and moving them from David Taylor comes with a $25 million to $30 million price tag and no one to pay it.

Russ Miller, congressional liaison for DISA and the Joint Task Force Global Network Operations, said the language of the bill means that the Department of Defense "may" enter into discussions with the developer and Anne Arundel County.

"We fully intend to abide by the spirit of the language and we will once again try to open the lines of communication with the developer to see if we can't resolve this to our mutual satisfaction," he said.

David Bullock, DISA's Base Realignment and Closure executive, added: "We're perfectly willing to discuss with the developer in accordance with the agreement that he has already signed off on."

The developer signed a 25-year lease for Joint Spectrum to stay in its lab at David Taylor unless the developer moved them to a suitable new lab for the remainder of the lease term. It also provided an option for Joint Spectrum to stay another 25 years. Now it seems the "leopard has changed its spots," Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller said DISA officials would discuss relocating to another suitable space within the David Taylor property at the developer's expense. It would only consider moving to Fort Meade if the developer pays for the move.

"It has to be a seamless move without one day's loss of mission support," he said.

Mr. Miller said DISA is not willing to consider a federal government subsidy on the order of $25 million to fund a new building at Fort Meade just so the developer can move forward on its project.

"There's no free lunch here," he said.

Local leaders said the provision about Joint Spectrum is a step to igniting progress at the site.

"It's not realizing its full potential as an economic engine for the county," said County Executive John R. Leopold, who wrote a letter to federal lawmakers in June urging them to help relocate Joint Spectrum. "It shows there's movement on this very important project."

Councilwoman Cathy Vitale, R-Severna Park, helped oversee the meticulous rounds of negotiations with neighbors of the David Taylor site who were concerned redevelopment would cause unmanageable traffic. Ms. Vitale and Broadneck Peninsula neighbors scrutinized the plans to build an upscale office park that would draw 2,000 highly paid workers and pump $3 million annually into county coffers.

The final building plans called for six office buildings, a three-story, 100-room David Taylor Inn and a pedestrian walkway near the water.

Ms. Vitale said the progress on the bill represents a great opportunity to revitalize the area, but also invites fears that promises made to residents years ago will not be kept.

"It's a bit of a double-edged sword," Ms. Vitale said. "As everybody says, the devil's in the details. This should be an example of the county executive keeping the county's word and the promises it made."

(Revised Dec 2007)