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Maryland sells former hospital site to Anne Arundel County, but not for development

ANNAPOLIS — The site of a former state hospital in Anne Arundel County has been sold by the state, ending years of speculation about how it might be used.

The three-member Board of Public Works voted unanimously to approve the sale of nearly 460 acres of the Crownsville State Hospital Center campus to the Anne Arundel County government for $1. The sale clears the way for use by nonprofits and for recreation while eliminating concerns about potential commercial or residential development.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who chairs the board, said the vote ends “20 years of speculation about the future of the Crownsville hospital property, giving that choice to the people most familiar with the land, which is the Anne Arundel County residents.”

The property, built in 1911, includes some historic buildings. Others that are not historic are in decrepit condition. The fate of the facility, which was closed in 2004, has been the subject of speculation for nearly two decades. The state previously sought to transfer the facility to Anne Arundel County, but officials balked because of concerns about remediation, including for asbestos used in a system of underground pipes. Remediation work will take place after the county takes possession of the property. 

Community groups worried the land would be ripe for commercial or residential development. Others were concerned about the fate of three nonprofits on the property, including the Anne Arundel County Food Bank.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the purchase presents the county with “obligation and opportunity.”

The contract puts those fears to rest. The property is restricted to “government use only” and includes the existing nonprofits. Any future sale of portions of the property would need approval from the Board of Public Works.

Comptroller Peter Franchot joined Hogan and Treasurer Dereck Davis in supporting the sale. In the spring, Franchot was the sole dissenting vote when the board approved an initial request to surplus the property.

Franchot said at the time he objected to not allowing state agencies the ability to use and remediate the property in the same way proposed by Anne Arundel County.

Franchot said he changed his position after he “listened very closely to what [Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman] said.”

The Wednesday vote clears the way for the county to take possession of the property while a final survey of property lines is underway.

“We’re beyond excited for this and look forward to receiving the keys,” Pittman said.

The former state hospital had a long, sad history of poor treatment for its patients, many of whom were Black. Forced labor was not an uncommon practice.

After the vote, Pittman said the purchase presents the county with “obligation and opportunity.”

“As stewards of Crownsville, we have an obligation to continue to tell the story of racism and the pain it caused, while helping lift up the stories of those who worked and lived there,” he said. 

More than 1,700 people are buried on the site. The county plans a memorial listing the names of those interred on the grounds.

The county will also raze some of the buildings and create a system of trails for public use. Historic buildings will be renovated.

The buildings would then be used for what Pittman called a nonprofit incubator that would turn the property “into a center for healing.”

Since being shuttered in 2004, the property has become home to a number of nonprofits offering substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as the food bank.

“You could say the very soil of the place is dedicated to healing,” Pittman said. “Mistakes have been made in the past in how that healing was done.”