After months of debate over the future of surplus land at Fort Meade, Maryland's congressional delegation has brokered a compromise with the Bush administration that would turn 7,600 acres into a wildlife preserve and allow the Army to sell 1,400 acres for development.
The agreement to transfer the bulk of the property at no cost to the Interior Department as an addition to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center could end a yearlong standoff between the Army, which had wanted to be compensated for at least 3,000 acres, and Maryland officials, who had pressed to have the entire 9,000 acres preserved as open space, sources said.
"This is a deal that we are very happy with because it achieves by far as much of our goal of preserving that land as we could see being accomplished," said Jeffrey L. Stone, land use adviser to Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer.
The compromise is included in the military construction bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee last Thursday. The full House is expected to vote on the bill early next week.
Under the compromise, the Army would be permitted to sell 1,000 acres for private development. And the 400 acres of Tipton Army Airfield would be sold and maintained as an airport.
The Fort Meade property, located in Anne Arundel County on the Prince George's County line, is the largest stretch of undeveloped land in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and is becoming vacant under the terms of a Department of Defense plan calling for 91 military installations nationwide to close or partly close.
Aides to Reps. Tom McMillen (D-Md.) and Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who negotiated the compromise over the last few months with the Army and the Office of Management and Budget, refused to comment yesterday on the plan, which surprised some of the local officials and residents who wanted the entire parcel annexed by the wildlife center.
In March, the Maryland delegation wrote President Bush asking that the entire parcel be turned over to the Interior Department. A congressional source said the House committee decided to let the Army keep 1,400 acres because "if we went for the entire 9,000, we could have gotten nothing."