UMBC alters blueprint for research site Residents' opposition among factors leading to sharp curtailment

'Time to slow down'

Setbacks lead officials to halve estimates for buildings, jobs

March 12, 1996|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland Baltimore County is drastically reducing a proposed $100 million high-tech research park -- a project once considered a cornerstone of Baltimore County's economic development plan, but opposed by area residents.

UMBC yesterday withdrew a Circuit Court appeal seeking zoning variances for the project, and university officials said they will work with southwest county residents to develop a smaller park that will be more acceptable to the community. The officials are cutting in half their estimates for buildings and jobs at the park.

"We think it's time to slow down and reconsider," said Mark Behm, UMBC vice president for administrative affairs.

The university had planned to build a park with 12 buildings on a 93-acre parcel bordered by Route 166, Sulphur Spring Road and UMBC Boulevard in Catonsville. The project was to have created 1,500 to 2,000 jobs.

The park now will consist of five or six buildings confined to about 20 acres in the northern half of the site.

Tenants still will be required to provide educational and research opportunities for university faculty and students, Mr. Behm said.

Officials said a number of factors played into the decision to scale back the project, including sustained community opposition, the loss of the research park's first tenant and the state's acquisition of the former Lockheed Martin research laboratories off Gun Road.

When the state agreed to buy the 170,000-square-foot Lockheed Martin complex for UMBC, the university's immediate problem of finding space for its business incubator and incubator graduates was solved, said Ellen Wiggins, executive director of UMBC Research Park Corp.

The university also has more time to develop its park because the company that was to have been the first tenant -- drug manufacturer Atlantic Pharmaceutical Services -- decided to build its facility in Owings Mills instead.

The Atlantic Pharmaceutical building was to have been next to residentially zoned land. When the Board of Appeals refused to grant a necessary variance, the university appealed to the Circuit Court.

Mr. Behm said the university decided to withdraw its appeal but continue with a petition before the County Council to rezone the land.

Lisa Akchin, associate vice president for public relations and marketing, said UMBC will begin to meet with community associations to discuss the revised plans this month. The county's new emphasis on economic revitalization, as well as the loss of Lockheed Martin and the sale of Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s plant in Linthicum, should make the community more receptive, she said.

Opponents, however, said the change in UMBC's plans is not likely to change their minds.

For six years, a group of determined residents has opposed the park. They say that it is out of place in the community and that it would endanger wetlands and the historic ruins of Sulphur Springs Inn, where wealthy travelers once stayed.

"We are opposed to any industrial park being placed in the older communities," said former County Councilwoman Berchie L. Manley, one of the leading opponents.

Last week, she and two other area residents, Charles Kucera and Kaye White, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore asking a judge to nullify a grant from the Economic Development Administration to help pay for roads and utilities in the park. They contend that county officials misrepresented the county's RTC economic conditions and made other false statements on the grant application.

County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said he liked UMBC's original plan but was not disappointed by the decision to scale back the park.

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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