UMBC plan gets mixed review Residents voice concerns at hearing

December 12, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Plans for an $80 million research park at the University of Maryland Baltimore County drew mixed reviews last night at a hearing held by state officials who must decide whether to fund the project.

The project's supporters told the Maryland Economic and Development Corp. it will attract jobs and help the region become competitive in the growing field of biomedical and biotechnology research.

"We know that growth will occur. We now have an opportunity to manage it. Let's not waste that opportunity over petty grievances," said Jack Doetzer, a Catonsville resident and supporter.

But opponents said the 12 buildings planned for a 36-acre parcel on the Catonsville campus could ruin environmentally sensitive wetlands.

They also said the project could clog roadways, poses a risk of pollution from biomedical wastes, and may fail to attract business and become a tax-subsidized white elephant.

"The project is a big loser for our community and a big loser for the taxpayers of Maryland," said Charles Macgill, president of the Southwest Coalition, which represents 15 community associations.

The panel must decide on an initial $1.45 million state loan to help pay the total $4.8 million cost for roads and utilities, said Mark Behm, vice president of administrative affairs at UMBC.

Its decision is expected early next month, officials said.

Mr. Behm said plans call for 734,000 square feet of office and research space.

The buildings would average three stories each and would be built by 2002. Groundbreaking would be next spring, he said.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, opposed the project, citing community concerns.

But Baltimore County executive Roger B. Hayden endorses it, and has already agreed to commit $450,000 as seed money toward its construction.

The park also is one of two sites being considered as a future home for the Maryland Bioprocessing Center, a proposed state-owned facility where small biotech companies could share space to begin manufacturing new drugs.

State officials also are considering Johns Hopkins University's Bayview Research Campus in East Baltimore.

Leaders of three community associations from neighborhoods near the Hopkins site, the South East Community Organization, the Fifteenth Street Improvement Association and the Bayview Civic Association, have signed letters endorsing any plans to locate the bioprocessing facility at the East Baltimore site.

But some Catonsville neighbors at last night's hearing said they don't want any research park at UMBC -- with or without a bioprocessing center.

Mr. Macgill said that the research park, like the rest of UMBC, would be served by 70-year-old clay sewer pipes that are cracked and have caused sewage problems in the past.

"They're going to shoot the waste from hazardous materials through these pipes. Any slip-up and we might have a real disaster on our hands," Mr. Macgill said.

"We could potentially be the ones that have alligators in our sewers."

But proponents say any work at the research facilities could not begin until a series of state regulatory agencies review and approve all plans, including plans for such necessary services as waste water discharge.

"The constraints placed on hazardous wastes from hospitals and universities are about as strict as one could imagine," said Louise White, a university spokeswoman.

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