Sykesville seeks to annex 57-acre parcel at state hospital, zone it for industry Warfield complex at Springfield seen as commercial boon

January 17, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County town could be the first in Maryland to annex state property and zone it for industrial use.

Sykesville is eyeing the Warfield complex, 12 vacant buildings on 57 acres of the Springfield Hospital Center property on Route 32, to boost the town's nearly nonexistent commercial base.

"Basically it is surplus land, which the state pays to keep up, that could mean additional economic growth for the town," said Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll Democrat.

The town unveiled its annexation proposal, which is in the preliminary stages, to the state Department of Planning during a meeting at the hospital yesterday.

"It is important for economic development to offset the cost of the residential tax burden," said Jonathan S. Herman, mayor of the town of 3,000.

Commercial property needed

"We sorely need commercial and industrial property," he said "We have a beautiful Main Street, but it's small and doesn't offset residential growth."

The Springfield site, six miles north of Interstate 70, would be more marketable and more accessible than any other in Sykesville, Mr. Herman said.

"At Warfield, you have infrastructure and existing buildings in good shape," said the mayor, a self-employed restoration contractor. "The buildings are substantial structures, built like the Smithsonian, with the best materials."

The mayor envisions office space and light industry in a campuslike setting.

New buildings could be designed to complement those already there, he said.

The hospital maintains but no longer uses the century-old buildings across the highway from the town's Millard Cooper Park. The buildings contain about 172,000 square feet of interior floor space. The state found great interest in the property when it met with local officials and business leaders in November.

"We would be creating a polished gem out of a raw jewel," said County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown.

'Golden opportunity'

"This is a golden opportunity for Carroll County to advance economically," he said.

The property is a financial liability to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but it could benefit others, said Steve Cassard, Maryland's assistant secretary for real estate.

"We are examining alternative uses to make an unproductive property productive and see a fiscal return," Mr. Cassard said.

A forum and open house at the Warfield buildings are tentatively set for next month.

If, as Mr. Cassard expects, the health department declares the complex surplus and the state decides it has no need for the property, the Maryland Board of Public Works can lease or sell it.

Sykesville can present its annexation proposal anytime during the process.

If the site is annexed, the town will develop it according to the county master plan for southern Carroll and look to the county to help market it, said Matthew H. Candland, Sykesville town manager.

Issue is not control

"Our main goal is economic," Mr. Candland said. "This is not a control issue. We know the county is better equipped to market the site. Everyone can win from the annexation."

If the property changes hands, Mr. Candland said Sykesville will offer commercial and industrial customers the same services it provides to its residents: 24-hour police protection, twice-weekly trash collection, snow removal, town government, and water and sewer service.

The town, with the highest property tax rate of Carroll's eight municipalities, must have industry to maintain a stable tax base, he said.

Annexation of state property has never been tried, but Sykesville officials say most community and business leaders are receptive.

"Annexation would be wonderful," said Kathy Horneman, leader of the South Carroll Coalition, an organization that has monitored state proposals for the Springfield property. "I really like Sykesville's commitment to historic preservation, and this is a perfect site."

Economic impact seen

Jack Lyburn, Carroll's director of economic development, said the county has "much interest in Warfield and keeping Springfield open. It will have a great economic impact, especially for Sykesville."

Springfield, one of three mental hospitals the state is considering closing, faces an uncertain future. Mr. Brown, who has organized a task force to try to keep the hospital open, said annexation and economic development can only further Springfield's cause.

"Our goal is that Springfield stays open as a viable, attractive state facility," Mr. Brown said. "Whatever is incorporated around it should enhance it."

Mr. Cassard said that annexation is feasible but that the state Board of Public Works will evaluate all proposals "on the merits of what is most beneficial to the state."

"The ultimate criterion is what is in the best interest of the state," he said.

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