A Howard County businessman has found a Carroll town receptive to his development plans and is asking it to annex an 8-acre riverfront parcel.
"Howard County wants nothing here, but Sykesville wants something," said William Tisano, owner of the property in Howard along the Patapsco River, only a few hundred yards from the Sykesville town limits near Main Street and Forsythe Road.
Four years after buying the property, Mr. Tisano is stymied in his attempts to turn it into a waterfront attraction. He traces his problems to Howard County, where he said the wheels of government grind too slowly.
In Sykesville, he said, officials welcome his annexation petition.
"Just across the bridge from Main Street, we would have a wonderful addition and attraction to town," said James L. Schumacher, Sykesville town manager.
Annexation into the Carroll town would remove Howard County's legal jurisdiction over the property and allow Mr. Tisano to move forward. "Sykesville has been more than accommodating for four years now," he said. "The county line won't change, and there will be no redrawing."
Mr. Schumacher said the town would want development "in accordance with our Main Street revitalization." He envisions a mini-park, an antiques mall and buildings for recreational use, he said.
Mr. Tisano envisions being the landlord of an income-producing parcel.
If annexation is approved, he said, he may finally be able to put his plans into action. Sykesville would become the second Carroll town in two counties. Mount Airy straddles the Carroll-Frederick border.
"Sykesville wants something to bring in tourists," he said. "Me, too. There is enough space here to create a critical mass that would lead to redevelopment of the town and the riverfront."
The Sykesville Planning and Zoning Commission will consider his annexation petition Tuesday.
First on the agenda, at 7 p.m. in the Town House, commission members will hear Joseph Rutter, Howard County director of planning. He said he plans to "give an update on what is happening with the property and voice opposition to the annexation."
Mr. Rutter said Howard County, with no incorporated towns, has "no mechanisms in place" to deal with Sykesville. He also expressed concern about developing a site that is in a flood plain.
Mr. Tisano has been down the road to annexation before. Shortly after settling on the property in 1989, he asked the town to annex it.
"About a week before the hearing, Howard County summoned Jim [Schumacher] and me to a meeting," he said. "We were promised virtually everything I wanted, if we dropped the petition."
In exchange for those verbal promises, he petitioned the Town Council to vote against the annexation. The council refused to go on record as opposed and opted to take no action on the proposal.
"We decided it was better to take no action and see how it played out," said Lloyd R. Helt Jr., who was mayor at the time.
Howard County withheld its approval of everything Mr. Tisano wanted. "Howard took a year to do its study and then decided they wanted the site to go back to parkland," he said.
With Project Open Space grants, Howard County has bought and razed two dilapidated bars adjacent to the property. Mr. Tisano said little else has happened in the area, where he runs Sunlight Manufacturing, making patio enclosures.
A year ago, he said, Howard County told him it had no more money to develop its proposed park. He has the dollars, he said, and wants a park, but one that generates income -- "a people place with access to the river."
"There is a real difference of desires at work here," he said. "Sykesville wants to see downtown redeveloped like Ellicott City, and Howard County wants a passive park."
After four years of haggling with Howard County, he said, he would rather deal with the town.
"My intention and interests and the town's are the same," he said. "I have no hesitation about putting my plans in their hands."
He said Howard County's foot-dragging has caused him to miss many development opportunities. He lost one tenant who wanted to convert a 70-by-150-foot structure on the site into a sports arena.
Annexation, he said, is the "only bargaining chip" he has left.
"I was naive at the start," he said. "I thought private business and government could get together for everybody's benefit."
While the "real difference of visions" remains, the river rolls by, hidden from view by overgrowth.
Hikers in the adjoining Hugg Thomas Park can't get to the water because Mr. Tisano owns the access. With the Tisano property as a link, the park could be extended to Piney Run, providing more miles of trails.
"My position is Howard County should buy the thing if it wants it that badly," he said. "But, why should government buy the property when I am willing to develop it with my own money?"