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UMBC presses controversial research park

January 28, 1991|By Patricia Meisol

At minimum, running the park and finding the right tenants would cost $250,000 a year. The income from rental fees that the university now might have to use to pay for sewers is the same money UMBC expected until last week to use to market and maintain the park as well as to build research buildings for its own faculty, a part of the plan consultants say is critical to its success.

According to the consultants, UMBC won't make any money on the project for 50 years if it pays for roads and sewers. Even if others help with the cost, it would still take 15 years to see a return that might benefit the university. The project also assumes that the campus would continue to be able to build faculty and add graduate students in key areas.

In August or September, two years after giving UMBC $230,000 to hire a consultant for the park, the University of Maryland System Board of Regents quietly gave the campus permission to begin negotiating with Westinghouse to lease a 6-acre parcel of land and to seek state grants.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

As news of the $80 million project has seeped out, more and more meetings in the community have been scheduled. Local lawmakers, too, have asked UMBC a barrage of questions as opposition mounts.

"The community is distressed," said Berchie Lee Manley, a newly elected county councilwoman from Catonsville who opposes the park. She said the research park would bisect old communities that were trying to retain their stability and would remove the last buffers between the campus and those neighborhoods.

Dr. Hooker said Thursday that a survey of the neighborhood around UMBC by a local group found that the majority supported UMBC's plans. And he said the campus had gone to community groups as early as three years ago to win their support for rezoning changes in connection with the research park. The university also says its planners have barred all development on environmentally and historically sensitive parts of the land.

But while leaders of a dozen community groups first did battle under the banner of the protection of wetlands, archaeological sites, old neighborhoods and what UMBC agrees are potentially monumental traffic problems, they now have larger questions.

"I resent my state and county taxes being used to subsidize private corporations such as Westinghouse, and I think every taxpayer should," said Brian Morrison, a Catonsville resident who says he surveyed his neighborhood and found most people opposed to the park.

Steven Boyan, a political science professor and chairman of the university's faculty senate, says a variety of professors would welcome the park, under certain conditions. For instance, he said, the project might be appealing if research links benefited the faculty and if the park provided income that might be used to buy library books.

But he said faculty and students would be very concerned if the park began to eat into the university's regular budget.

Some of those who reviewed the master plan question whether its predictions are financially sound.

Among other things, the plan promises the county $2 million in added annual property tax revenues and employment for up to 2,000 people.

"Most of us don't agree with that," said Kathy Valderas, president of the Maiden Choice Community Association. If Westinghouse is the model, she said, the park would be made up of transfers from existing corporate research centers.

She and others say they like living near the university, but they also want to preserve their neighborhoods. It comes down to conflicting visions, Ms. Valderas said.

"If we wanted to live next to [the University of Maryland] College Park, we would have moved there," she said.

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