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Hospital Site Is Too Costly, Owens Says

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page AA03

For months, County Executive Janet S. Owens eagerly awaited the results of a state assessment of the former Crownsville Hospital Center, a site of several hundred acres. But when that environmental report came in, she was not impressed.

"Unfortunately, the more we learn about Crownsville, the more we become convinced that a scenario may not exist under which Anne Arundel County could reasonably afford to take control of the property," Owens wrote in a four-page letter last month to S. Anthony McCann, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.


(Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

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Full Report

The state announced its decision to close the hospital, which served people with mental illness, in 2003. Since then, the state has hoped the county would assume responsibility of the property, said Elizabeth G. Barnard, director of the department's office of planning and capital financing.

But Owens isn't exactly leaping at the chance to acquire a huge parcel of land that she fears could be a huge headache.

To wit: It could costs millions to clean an asbestos-lined steam tunnel that runs under the property, Owens said. Many of the buildings on the site "are considered in poor structural condition," she wrote, adding that "no detailed analyses have been conducted to identify the likely costs associated with bringing the buildings into compliance with contemporary codes." That repair work could also cost millions, she wrote.

Then there's the matter of the water and sewer system, which "also appears in dire need of a major rehabilitation."

Despite Owens's letter, the state is "still working under the premise" that the county is going to take over the land, Barnard said.

In her letter, Owens said the county could still be interested, but with one, not-so-small caveat: The state pays for the cleanup and repair costs.

Loophole Legislation

There she was, shoulder to shoulder with all the Maryland top politicos last week, exhorting House Speaker Michael E. Busch's plan to close what he called a loophole in the state's tax code, which would generate more money for school construction.

When it was County Executive Janet S. Owens's turn to take the podium, she said, "What you're doing today is absolutely critical for all our of children."

Two weeks before, however, she had said she wasn't supporting the effort because it had failed so many times in the past. Did she suddenly had a change of heart?

"Not especially," she said matter-of-factly. "I don't think it's going to go anywhere."

She's a "pragmatist," she said, not an "idealist." If the legislation passes and the county gets more money for school construction, then that's great, she said.

But the bill, which would force corporations to pay transfer and recordation taxes when a property changes hands through the sale of a limited liability corporation, has failed in the Senate before and probably will again, Owens (D) said.

Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has made the bill a top priority again this year and has vowed to push it. "This is about closing a loophole," he said.


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