A 247-acre tract on the northern edge of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center may be turned into a park or put to another public use if Maryland, Prince George's County, another local governmental unit or some nonprofit group presents a convincing proposal to the General Services Administration by Feb. 3.
If GSA isn't convinced, the property will be sold to the highest bidder later this year.
The tract is south of Odell Road, between the junctions with Ellington Drive and Springfield Road, near the Beltsville Speedway.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) is studying ways to restrict various commercial uses if the property is sold, while Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has asked congressional lawyers to study whether a federal law could be enacted to bar the sale entirely.
"Right now, we don't want to take a purely political posture," said Sherry Conway, Hoyer's spokeswoman. "We're talking to people in congressional offices who have stopped similar sales and we're talking to House lawyers."
Sarbanes staff assistant John S. Porter said selling the Beltsville tract would be "unwise" because of the effect such a sale would have on the surrounding community.
Hoping to prompt Sarbanes, Hoyer and Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) to introduce some type of legislation, Greenbelt city officials told GSA recently that "improper utilization of the land will adversely impact the city and surrounding communities, as well as adversely impact upon the federal government installation in which considerable time and money have been invested."
The Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center and a U.S. Secret Service facility are near the tract, in addition to the agricultural research center. None of those installations has drafted formal objections to the sale proposal, however.
In response to Greenbelt's concerns, Federal Property Resources Commissioner Carroll Jones said the local communities would "maintain the opportunity to control the use of the property under their jurisdiction through zoning."
The Agricultural Department declared the property unneeded on Oct. 7, 1982 and turned it over to GSA for disposal. Since then, GSA, as required by law, has asked all other federal agencies if they were interested in the property.
Until October, research center scientists had used the tract to study insects in their natural surroundings. The land is heavily forested and has several ponds. Dr. Essex Finney, an assistant director of the research center, said insect studies would go on at other parts of the facility but a joint project of the Agriculture Department, the University of Maryland and the National Science Foundation on the same tract would be terminated. That study explored the ecological relationships between fish, frogs and other wildlife.
"We don't think it's wise for the government to divest land that is adjacent to the city and adjacent to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, because development on that property could adversely affect the wildlife," said Greenbelt City Manager James Geise. In addition, he said, the planned city was designed to be buffered from surrounding communities by open space.
"If they start selling off bits and pieces of the research center, then it disturbs the nature of what has been the Greenbelt community," added Michael McLaughlin, Geise's administrative assistant.
The congressional delegation's concern that development of the Beltsville parcel would adversely affect the Space Flight Center's sensitive magnetic test facilities and satellite receiving facilities apparently is unfounded.
Richard Reeves, deputy director of management operations at Goddard, said the parcel is "outside of our area of concern. But other property in the research center, if sold, would impact on our work." Reeves said that if the property is sold and developed there may be indirect effects on NASA. Among his fears are too many radio receivers, CB ham radio operators or household and office appliances.
In the past two years, one 5.3-acre tract at the Research Center was sold for $354,200 to developer Leon Minkoff of Sunnyside Development Corp. Two other small tracts, of 12.9 acres and 5.6 acres, are now on the market.