Maryland officials approve moving housing agency to New Carrollton

Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Board of Public Works signed off on a $58 million plan Wednesday to move a state agency to a leased building in Prince George's County, despite protests that Maryland was wasting money leaving a state-owned building.

The board, made up of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, unanimously approved the move of the Department of Housing and Community Development from a state-owned building in Anne Arundel County to a new location near the New Carrollton Metro station.

The move would bring the 380 employees of the Housing Department -- most of whom live in Anne Arundel or Baltimore City or County -- to Prince George's County.

Critics slammed the plan for moving the agency from a rent-free building owned by the state to one that hasn't been built and will cost taxpayers $3.5 million annually in rent -- or $58 million over the 15-year lease.

"My understanding is that we're moving from something that makes sense to something that is quite speculative, and using taxpayer dollars ... as the anchor," said Franchot, who ultimately voted in favor of the project after grilling administration officials about the move.

The plan calls for the agency to leave its 87,000-square-foot building in Crownsville for a 97,000-square-foot office space that eventually will include 120,000 square feet of retail space and 500 apartments.

The plan's architects hope the relocation of the agency and its 380 workers to Prince George's County -- at an Orange Line Metro stop where the proposed Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton will originate -- will spur growth in the area.

"This will help us turn this into a place where people will actually stop, shop, work, stay and bring money to the state of Maryland," said Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker.

Ground-breaking on the project is scheduled for early next year, with a planned move-in date of June 2015.

However, Anne Arundel County lawmakers questioned the logic of moving the agency to Prince George's County when most of its employees live outside the county and far from any existing or planned transit.

"I don't think it's right during a campaign to talk about moving a department," said Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel County, who is expected to announce his bid for governor early next month. "It's not a way of creating more jobs, it's a way of moving jobs around."

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