Within the next few months, the State of Maryland will make a decision about who will redevelop the former Crownsville Hospital Center property and how. This decision will have wide-ranging impacts on our region's overall quality of life, traffic congestion, environmental health, tax base and social services safety net.
The 559-acre property (map) is located in the heart of Anne Arundel County. Its rolling hills and woodlands contribute to the area's pastoral character and also form the headwaters of the South River several miles away. Its massive size means that any redevelopment of it will significantly impact the surrounding area for generations to come. It is imperative that this decision be carefully considered.
Crownsville Hospital Center was established in 1910 as the Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland. It was desegregated in 1949. For the next 55 years it was one of the State's regional inpatient facilities, serving mentally ill patients primarily from Anne Arundel County and Southern Maryland. The Hospital was built with on-site utilities such as a wastewater treatment plant, water plant and electrical substation. Some of these outdated, asbestos-ridden systems have since become a costly obstacle to the property's redevelopment.
The Hospital has been closed since June of 2004. Since that time the campus has been largely a ghost town (see pictures at forgottenphotography.com.) A handful of non-profit organizations such as the Maryland Food Bank, Hope House, Second Genesis and the Ridge School have been occupying some of its buildings, but many of the 66 buildings have remained vacant. During the administration of former County Executive Janet S. Owens, the County had expressed interest in acquiring the site but was put off by the estimated $15 to $25 million environmental clean-up cost.
Over the past several months a group of State agencies reviewed the property and deemed it to be in the State's interest to dispose of it. In May the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (REOI) to sell or lease the property for redevelopment. According to a letter from MDP's Deputy Secretary Matthew Power, the State adopted a set of guiding principles for the property which included:
"... restricting uses to those permitted under current zoning, retention of open space, and adaptive reuse of buildings."These guiding principles were adopted in addition to three others previously established by the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH):
"(1) to maintain existing tenant-based behavioral health capacity, and preferably increase, privately operated outpatient and inpatient behavioral health service capacity on site; (2) to maximize return on the value of the property and deposit proceeds from disposition of the property in the Community Trust Fund to benefit individuals with mental illness; and (3) to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the annual costs paid by DHMH for the operation of the on-site water and sewer systems and other costs."Local priorities
My preference would have been for Anne Arundel County to acquire the property and control its own destiny. Because that is not going to happen, Councilman Jamie Benoit and I sent a letter last week to Deputy Secretary Power to request the State's support for the following five local priorities:
- Compliance with local zoning;
- Minimal impact on vehicle traffic;
- Preservation of undeveloped land;
- Maintenance on non-profits on site; and
- Community participation.
Right now any discussion about the future of the property is just speculation. The range of options will become clearer next week after the June 30 deadline to respond to the REOI. Once the responses come in, we will begin to be able to weigh the pros and cons of the different development proposals.
Thus far I have been encouraged by the State's proactive communication with local officials, and am cautiously optimistic that this collaborative spirit will continue. However, the State is facing a significant budget crunch. It remains to be seen whether the State will be able to resist the temptation to view the property first and foremost as a cash cow.
As the process moves forward it is important for citizens to get involved and advise their State representatives of their concerns and priorities. I will continue to closely monitor the process and work with State and community stakeholders to achieve a positive outcome not only for the State, but for our County and its communities as well.
- The Sun: Hospital site up for development (June 22, 2008)
- The Capital: Crownsville Hospital property in limbo (June 24, 2008)
- The Capital: Editorial: Nonprofits shouldn't be ousted from old hospital site (June 25, 2008)