Town seeks annexation of 131 acres Land now part of state hospital, includes 15 buildings

'Terrific piece of property'

Well-known architect tentatively offers to help develop plan

September 29, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville may be the small town that could.

The South Carroll town of 3,000 wants to annex 131 acres and 15 vacant buildings at Springfield Hospital Center. With the help of a nationally known architect, the town could develop a plan for turning the century-old Warfield Complex into homes, shops, offices, maybe even a satellite college campus.

"You take a historical site and develop around it," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "It fits neatly into the governor's initiative to end sprawl and get back to Main Street."

The municipality that straddles Carroll and Howard counties is looking at the unused state property as a way to expand its industrial tax base and extend its historic district.

Where others see obstacles, Sykesville sees opportunity.

Nearly a year ago, the state announced it was seeking buyers for the land and the buildings, many of which once were hospital wards.

Sykesville officials immediately put together an annexation proposal, detailing how to extend historic Main Street across Route 32 and onto the Warfield property.

The state held two forums and offered tours of the site last winter. Most participants offered opinions about the impediments to a restoration project, particularly costly asbestos removal.

Sykesville emerged as the most willing prospect and is hoping a detailed plan will improve its bargaining position. Officials contacted Joseph Alfandre, the neo-traditional architect who designed the Kentlands in Montgomery County.

After meeting with state, county and town officials and touring Warfield, Alfandre suggested intensive planning with town officials, residents and professionals.

Before Kentlands was created on 352 acres in Gaithersburg, Alfandre's company, Traditional Neighborhood Design, undertook a weeklong in-depth study of proposals for the site. What emerged was a plan for a 1990s community with the feel of a Colonial village.

"Warfield is a terrific piece of property," said Candy McCracken, vice president of Traditional Neighborhood Design. "The question is what to do with it. There is a solution to all the drawbacks."

Most of the all-brick Warfield buildings date to the early 20th century, before the automobile dictated the size of roads and developments. Traditional planners, including Alfandre, want a return to the village atmosphere.

"Neo-traditional planning is a fancy way to say let's get back to Main Street," said Town Manager Matthew H. Candland.

Alfandre tentatively has offered to lead the planning exercise.

"The town would be the primary sponsor initially, but Alfandre would help," Candland said. "We hope to involve the community and planning experts. Anyone from an engineer to a plumber or a homemaker could be involved in the compressed, heavy-duty session. The end result would be a master plan for the Warfield area that incorporates a design that complements and preserves the hospital."

K. Marlene Conaway, the county deputy director of planning, praised the town's initiative and Alfandre's experience.

"This is a real high-caliber group who has done these planning projects all over the country," Conaway said. "They will set up a program with really good designers and draw the community in."

Paula A. Langmead, Springfield's superintendent, said the planning exercise would determine whether the town has a viable project.

"We will know where everyone is going and what are all the avenues to pursue," she said.

Annexation would give the town much-needed industrial property to offset residential growth. Sykesville has added nearly 500 residents this decade.

"We want to make sure what happens at Springfield Hospital Center turns out good," Herman said. "We can't waste this golden opportunity to use the resources we have."

Springfield, with a staff of nearly 1,000 and one of the county's largest employers, could use a boost from restoration and development. The number of patients at the hospital, which is celebrating its centennial this year, has dropped from several thousand to fewer than 400.

It is one of three institutions for the mentally ill in the state. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has said it will close one within four years.

The hospital, on 586 acres along Route 32, has the state's two newest 100-bed buildings for the mentally ill. Age, asbestos and lead paint have made all but seven of its original 38 buildings unusable.

The state offered the buildings to its own agencies and recently deeded nearly 800 acres and the Martin Gross Complex to the Department of the Public Safety and Correctional Services. Those 14 buildings and grounds will become a $46 million police training center. The Warfield Complex has attracted no takers.

Steve Cassard, assistant secretary of the state Real Estate Department, has gathered ideas for Warfield from the private sector, but he said that "we are not putting the property up for grabs yet."

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