Greenbury Point is a beautiful peninsula, stretching out to the Chesapeake Bay between the Severn River and Whitehall Bay.

You can spot it just south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge by its three “Eiffel Towers,” relics of a radio transmission network for Navy submarines during the Cold War.

And you can recognize it as one of a handful of spots on the map that are key to expanded public access to the bay near Annapolis. It is, to stretch a sports metaphor to the breaking point, a fairway to the Chesapeake.

Thursday, three members of Congress declared victory following passage of a defense policy bill that protects public access to the Navy-owned, 240-acre environmental preserve at Greenbury Point. Its authors say that shuts the door on a new golf course proposed almost two years ago by Naval Academy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk.

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“This is ironclad,” said U.S. Sen Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat. “He can look for a loophole, but it is not there.”

The National Defense Authorization Act approved by Congress this week includes the biggest pay raise for troops in more than two decades and $1.3 billion in spending at Fort Meade and other military installations around Maryland, according to the state’s other senator, Democrat Ben Cardin.

But it also includes a highly local issue in Annapolis, preventing the Navy from blocking public access to the Greenbury Point Conservation Area, with temporary exceptions for emergencies or for public safety. President Joe Biden signed it into law Thursday night.

“It is very in tune with the clear congressional intent going back to the ’90s in regard to what should happen on Greenbury Point,” U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes said.

“We don’t see how a private golf course is compatible with this,” the Democrat said. “I’m sure all parties interested in this will come away with that interpretation.”

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If there were any doubt, Van Hollen and Sarbanes sent a letter to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro Thursday afternoon stressing that public access to the water was a priority of the legislation.

“Even before that, we considered a golf course to be fundamentally incompatible with the basic requirements of maintaining Greenbury Point as a publicly available conservation area, a stipulation that has been part of the operating agreement between the Navy, Congress and the public for more than two decades,” Van Hollen and Sarbanes wrote.

It could be a watershed moment for public access around the Annapolis area.

Greenbury Point is not part of a Chesapeake Bay park proposal that Van Hollen and Sarbanes offered this year. If approved, the Chesapeake National Recreation Area would create a network of sites around the bay potentially connected by water trails and ferries, including the historic Whitehall Manor within sight of Greenbury Point.

By the end of this month, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is expected to announce another crucial change, its next step in opening Holly Farm Beach to the public. The 300-acre former horse farm next to Greenbury Point was purchased with state and federal money 20 years ago but has remained largely closed to the public. The foundation is seeking a new owner who will change that.

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And in 2024, a Department of Defense agency is expected to reach the end of its lease at the old Navy research center near Greenbury Point. A long-delayed redevelopment project is in the wings, controlled by Naval Academy alum Maurice Tose.

Put all those things together and the area across the Severn River from Annapolis could be about to undergo significant changes.

It’s been almost two years since Gladchuk, the academy’s athletic director, wrote Del Toro to propose a new 18-hole course at Greenbury Point. His one-page letter suggested a lease to the Naval Academy Athletic Association, a nonprofit he heads that funds Navy sports. It would be an expansion of the current 18-hole course at Naval Activity Station Annapolis, the academy support base, and make it suitable for collegiate tournament play.

Gladchuk began laying plans with financial support from Jerry Miller, a 1977 academy graduate and wealthy real estate developer who lives in Virginia. Last week, the Naval Academy Alumni Association named him as one of four recipients of its annual Distinguished Graduate Awards.

“This is ironclad. He can look for a loophole, but it is not there.”

U.S. Sen Chris Van Hollen.

At first, the Navy seemed on board. Two weeks after Del Toro got Gladchuk’s letter, the director of facilities at the Annapolis naval station assigned a staff member as lead planner for a lease. It listed 22 conditions that would have to be met first, including establishing financial terms, environmental impact and the levels of approval needed for a lease without a competitive process.

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When fans of the site’s waterfront walking trails learned about the proposal, they enlisted County Executive Steuart Pittman, and then Van Hollen, Sarbanes and Cardin. Pittman sent a competing offer to the Navy, suggesting his administration could operate Greenbury Point as a county park.

The Navy, perhaps recognizing a no-win situation, announced it wasn’t going to consider either proposal because no competitive process had been established. Many took that as a victory.

Gladchuk, however, continued working on his plan. He did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

In December 2022, Gladchuk shifted his focus to football, firing the longtime head coach after a loss to Army and working to rebuild the program. But by spring of 2023, he was teeing up the golf proposal again.

According to one Navy grad, Gladchuk made a presentation to the alumni association’s Council of Class Presidents that included the “Greenbury Point Links Course.” At the same meeting, retired Rear Adm. Tom Lynch, an active member of the association, showed the council a new, $30 million capital program listing for Greenbury Point.

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Some in Annapolis look at Gladchuk’s record at the academy — new athletic facilities, an expanded stadium, lucrative deals on television and merchandise rights ― and question whether he will give up.

“I’ve read the language rather closely and it appears to be only a minor constraint on what the Navy is already doing at Greenbury Point,” said Kurt Reigel, a retired Navy administrator working on preservation efforts. “There are enough loopholes and exceptions to accommodate nearly anything they are already doing.

“Furthermore, and this is more distressing, the precise language is not a clear barrier to future use of Greenbury Point as a golf course. We need to do a lot more work on this,” he said.

In their letter to the Navy secretary, Van Hollen and Sarbanes tried to be clear that a golf course was unworkable. They also urged him to push for swift completion of the updated natural resources management plan for Greenbury Point.

Already seven years in the works, it was due in September. When completed it will lay out plans for the environmental reserve, including details of public access.

The Integrated Natural Resources Plan is being reviewed by other state and federal agencies and should be completed by April, a spokesperson for the Annapolis Navy station said. It does not require public comment.

Other Navy projects intended to serve members of the military at Greenbury Point continue, including vacation rental cottages, design work on improving safety at the firing range and an environmental assessment for a proposed RV park.

One provision in the NDAA clarifies that the Navy can still lease the environmental reserve to a “public entity.” That would appear to eliminate the athletic association, a private nonprofit.

Although Sarbanes said the provision on transfer was not added for any specific change, Van Hollen noted the county‘s interest and the possibility of a future addition to the Chesapeake National Recreation Area if it is approved.

“We know that County Executive Pittman has expressed an interest in transferring this land to Anne Arundel County for use as public access,” Van Hollen said.

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and we're we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom. 

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