Development panel excluded from forum Commissioners disagree on omission

August 17, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Carroll's commissioners met privately with commercial development specialists last month to discuss how the Industrial Development Authority should market some property the county expects to acquire -- but no one invited the authority.

The commissioners are divided about how it happened that the five-member authority was not represented.

The July 20 meeting brought together real estate professionals and economic development specialists to advise the commissioners on how to develop property along Routes 482 and 30 in Hampstead. The approximately 400-acre tract is owned by Carroll County General Hospital, which seeks to swap part of it for the County Health Department building in Westminster.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he was surprised not to see members of the authority at the meeting. "I thought they were going to be present. I guess I assumed that. It was an IDA meeting and the IDA wasn't represented," Mr. Dell said.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said the omission was intentional. "We wanted to get an opinion from a panel of experts. We didn't want the IDA there because it was possible they might have tried to promote their own cause," he said.

Mr. Lippy explained that he wanted opinions on whether the authority should develop the property or simply act as sales agent. If IDA members were present, they would understandably seek the largest possible role, he said.

Mr. Lippy reported that the experts agreed the authority should market the property. The commissioners met with authority members after the July 20 meeting to ask them to take that role.

The commissioners created the IDA in 1980 to sell lots in the county air business center north of Westminster. The county is barred by law from disposing of publicly owned land except at public auction, a constraint that does not apply to the authority.

Authority Chairman Russell A. Sellman said he knew nothing of the meeting of commissioners and development experts. He said that, when the commissioners asked the authority to market the property if the land exchange is consummated, "Our decision was yes, we definitely would."

The consensus at the meeting was that the county will have to invest money in the property to make it attractive to businesses or industries. The land is currently farmed.

The experts advised the commissioners to: put in access roads; make sure water and sewer service are available; and decide whether they want to sell the property in small individual lots or wait for a few large buyers.

"Unless there is a bypass there, traffic problems would probably limit it to smaller users or those that don't have much traffic," said Michael L. Mason, a commercial real estate agent in Westminster.

Mr. Mason said a market exists among smaller business owners, who are seeking 1- to 3-acre lots they can own rather than rent. Small business owners are less likely to want to develop raw land, but if the infrastructure is taken care of, the property will be more salable, he said.

The State Highway Administration lists a Hampstead bypass among its plans, but slowed preliminary work on the project two years ago when the state budget became tight.

Leroy M. Merritt, developer of the Eldersburg Business Center, said through a spokeswoman that his suggestions are to put in infrastructure for the property and to sell lots individually.

County Economic Development Administrator William E. Jenne, who coordinated the meeting, said he didn't think the IDA was left out intentionally.

"I think the commissioners wanted to get an arm's-length view of contemporary business development issues. I don't think the IDA was deliberately excluded, but the purpose was to meet with individuals who are not intimately involved with county activities," Mr. Jenne said.

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