Board Approves Md. Purchase Of Kent Island Industrial Site

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved $7.2 million yesterday to buy 74 acres on the Chesapeake Bay on Kent Island, where state officials envision a park of trails, hunting and boating access on what is now an industrial site.

But the 2 to 1 vote, with Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) in opposition, underscored some unease over how Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration is using money allocated to buy open space, even with mounting pressure to preserve land in the fast-growing gateway to the Eastern Shore.

O'Malley (D) and Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D), the board's other two members, supported the purchase.

"I'm excited with what the project holds," said the governor, who has pledged to restore land preservation money diverted by his predecessor. He called the deal "not the preservation of the pristine but the remediation of the industrial."

An industrial marina occupies 12 acres of the property owned by Langenfelder Marine at Love Point on the northern tip of Kent Island, a community east of the Bay Bridge expanding with subdivisions and strip malls. Under the terms of the deal, the marina and dredging operation would be leased back to the owner for up to 10 years at $215,000 a year. Langenfelder must pay to clean up any environmental contamination found on the site.

"This is a fantastic opportunity" for Maryland, said John Griffin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, calling the land a rare swath of public waterfront in Maryland with land and deep-water access for boaters. Love Point was the docking area for a ferry between Baltimore and the Eastern Shore before the Bay Bridge opened.

But the deal, which followed another multimillion-dollar land purchase in Queen Anne's County approved last month by the state public works board, was debated for weeks.

Franchot, who also opposed the Queen Anne's purchase, said the state is paying too much for the Langenfelder property, which will take years to restore to open space that can be enjoyed by the public. He questioned whether the land would be in danger of intense development if the state did not buy it -- the standard for a purchase of open space.

"What is the urgency?" he asked before the board voted. "Is it worth spending $7.5 million for a piece of property to avoid a relatively small number of homes?" Under current local zoning, about five homes could be built on some of the land, with the rest designated for industrial use.

Since taking office in January, Franchot has been outspoken on the public works board, which approves state contracts. Yesterday he told the officials who negotiated the deal with Jim Matters, whose company owns Langenfelder Marine, that they should have been more aggressive in securing a lower price. Before approaching the state about a sale last year, Matters had an offer from a private buyer. His attorney would not disclose the terms.

But Griffin said the state cannot offer less than the lowest appraised value, which was $6.8 million.

"The state buys land," Griffin said. "We don't look to the seller's financial positions or options the seller might have."

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