Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer says locating a new state-run equestrian recreation center in Anne Arundel County would produce the same land preservation benefit as Central Park does for New York City.
But Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said the proposed 5,000-seat arena, outdoor amphitheater, show rings and stables might not be the best use of the potential $30 million the county would probably have to contribute to the project.
The Maryland Stadium Authority is days away from designating a site in either Anne Arundel or Cecil counties for what will be Maryland's premier recreational horse park.
A feasibility study of the selected site will then proceed, said Alison Asti, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, who said that public hearings about the horse park have been packed in Anne Arundel and Cecil counties.
The authority has zeroed in on an 800-acre site in Cecil County and two sites totaling nearly 1,800 acres in Anne Arundel County from a field of six jurisdictions that also included Frederick, Harford, Carroll and Wicomico counties. State and local officials say the proposed facility would have a huge economic impact because it will be a leading horse destination in a state where the horse industry is a $1.6 billion enterprise.
"This is a rare opportunity for us," said Moyer (D), who has led the effort to get the horse park in Anne Arundel County. "I look at this as the equivalent to Central Park in New York City because there is a need for more housing and the pressure will continue to gobble up land."
Moyer, a longtime horse lover, crafted a proposal to build the park on one of two sites: One includes land at the old Crownsville Hospital Center and the city's Waterworks property, and the other is the Naval Academy's old dairy farm in Gambrills.
Cecil County would like the park built on 800 acres of a 5,600-acre site that already includes an equestrian center that hosts recreational events. Cecil County officials are united in wanting the park on their site near the Pennsylvania border, but that has not been the case in Anne Arundel.
Moyer denied reports that she and the county executive have stopped speaking to each other because of the issue. "We are talking to each other. It has been friendly; we have been working together on a different things."
As for her relationship with the mayor, Owens (D) said: "We do speak to each other. The mayor's proposal was a big vision. I am just a practical person.
"The overall idea is a great idea," Owens said. "But we must find a suitable location to support the park, and I am also concerned about the cost. We have heard that the potential cost of the park is between $10 million and $30 million. I can't obligate the county that way, as opposed to building a school."
Owens also said she does not want to move the nonprofit organizations now providing counseling and other services at the old Crownsville hospital: "We have nonprofit organizations providing services to some of our most vulnerable residents."
Owens said the debate over the Crownsville site is probably moot because "folks at the Stadium Authority have told me that Crownsville is off the list." She said that although she supports the old Naval Academy farm site, residents in that area have raised concerns about excessive traffic.
A Naval Academy spokesman said that "we are encouraged that the Maryland Stadium Authority has informally expressed interest in a long-term lease of the property. However, the Naval Academy has not received any formal proposals."
The Naval Academy site covers 857 acres in Gambrills. The property was used from 1913 to 1998 to provide milk and dairy products to the midshipmen. Academy officials say Maryland law requires that the property be used for rural and agricultural purposes. From 1998 to earlier this year, the academy leased the property to Horizon Organic dairy farm.
Alison Asti, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said her panel is waiting for an economic impact analysis of the two sites, and a decision is likely to come next week.
Asti said the authority hopes to complete the site feasibility study by the end of November.