Sunset at South Mountain Battlefield, Maryland. Photo by Eric Reed for Maryland DNR Photo Contest, 2014.

Smart Growth Maryland Supports New Legislation to Require More Land Acquisition Transparency

02/05/2020
By Smart Growth Maryland

Smart Growth Maryland is supporting much-needed legislation concerning land acquisition introduced by Senator Ron Young of Frederick County, a longtime champion for responsible planning, sustainable communities, and historic preservation.

SB148 Senator Ron Young of Frederick County would require the Board of Public Works (BPW) to provide the Legislative Policy Committee with a justification for any acquisition of real property worth at least $500,000, as well as a cost-benefit analysis. If the acquisition of property is from the federal government and requires the State to provide ongoing maintenance, the BPW may not approve the acquisition until a study has been completed on the ongoing fiscal effect of the acquisition on the State.

The bill does not apply to acquisitions of property for land preservation and conservation purposes, property at the Port of Baltimore or BWI Airport, or federal military property.

As described in the Fiscal and Policy Note, the Governor signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2017 for a potential land swap in which the State would acquire 512 acres of Oxon Cove National Park in Prince George’s County in exchange for 2,841 acres of State-owned parkland in Frederick and Washington counties, including a portion of South Mountain Battlefield.

While talks with Washington’s NFL team about building its next stadium at Oxon Cove National Park have ceased, the Hogan administration is continuing to pursue the land swap without any meaningful consultation with local officials, the affected communities or the public. The proposal sets a concerning precedent where state lands could be traded away without any public input or a transparent and open process.

Additionally, the swap and subsequent development of Oxon Cove Park would result in a net loss of protected land in our state. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and receives thousands of visitors every year. A refuge for residents of area communities, the parks offers trails for biking and walking and greenspace for free play and picnicking. The park also includes a farmyard with animals that has delighted generations of children.

While not proposed for development, concerns about the future of South Mountain Battlefield have also been raised. The Central Maryland Heritage League has noted the considerable state and private investment in the park, which includes three recently renovated museum and visitor centers, as well as trails and history programs. The National Park Service’s maintenance backlog and resource constraints could result in a decline in the quality of park facilities and programs.

SB148 will ensure that acquisition and disposal of state property receive the necessary level of review and consideration.

BACKGROUND ON THE LAND SWAP

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Smart Growth Maryland is a major program of Preservation Maryland which advocates for a more environmentally and economically sustainable future that creates opportunities for all Marylanders through better development patterns.

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