Consultant backs park for industry Report urges county to keep 471 acres at Route 140, Bethel Rd.

'Feasible to develop this'

Development agency asks planners to rezone parcels for site

September 11, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll should keep 471 acres of agricultural and conservation land north of Route 140 and east of Bethel Road for use as an industrial park in about 10 years, a real estate consultant has advised county officials.

The site -- consisting of eight parcels of rolling woodland, clearings and farmland -- is across Bethel Road from an industrial property once used by Telemecanique Inc., an electrical components manufacturer that closed in August 1993.

Carroll's Economic Development Commission has been eyeing the Bethel Road property near Finksburg as a potential industrial site for more than 15 months. Tuesday, it recommended to the planning commission that the county rezone 190 conservation acres and 280 agricultural acres there for industrial use.

The request was part of a larger recommendation that the county rezone more than 1,155 mostly rural acres in Eldersburg, Sykesville and Westminster for commercial and industrial use.

Although the $20,000 report from the consulting firm of Lipman, Frizzell and Mitchell deals specifically with the Finksburg site, it notes that Carroll's office and industrial growth "has been slow historically due to strong competition from other jurisdictions" in the Baltimore area, and "the poor location of much of the county's employment zoned land."

Carroll has the smallest commercial-property tax base in the Baltimore region -- about half that for the region and the state.

The 1,155-acre rezoning request is an attempt to turn some of the county's more accessible sites into business use.

The Bethel property is a prime example. Zoned for agricultural and conservation uses, it could become an excellent site for a business park 10 to 15 years from now, provided that the site receives water and sewer service from Westminster, and that Route 140 is widened to six lanes, the report suggests.

Those are two very big ifs. Westminster officials oppose extending water and sewer service. And a widening of Route 140 is not on the State Highway Administration drawing board.

But the highway would be widened regardless, the consultant believes, because of increased traffic. The road carried an average of 38,900 vehicles a day in 1995, and is expected to grow to 62,000 vehicles a day by 2015. A business park with 2 million square feet of office and industrial space would add another 11,000 to 15,000 trips a day, but would not have an adverse effect on a widened thoroughfare, the report said.

"We find that it is feasible to develop this land, though not in the immediate future," the report said.

Most businesses want quick access to Interstate 95 -- "the Main Street of the East Coast" -- the report said, and would not look to Carroll until Owings Mills is nearing "build out" in 10 to 15 years.

Once the Owings Mills market is saturated, "developers will seek the most proximate alternative in the northwest market and the least costly alternative," the report said.

A business park at the Bethel site would score on both counts. The cost per acre would be at least 40 percent lower than in Owings Mills, the report predicts, and Baltimore is only 40 minutes away via Interstate 795.

The rolling topography of the 471-acre site is such that only 252 acres would be developed, the report said. The remainder would be used as a buffer.

Development would not be cheap -- $36,700 an acre -- $29,100 an acre for on-site improvements and another $7,600 an acre to build an off-site pumping station and connect to Westminster's water and sewer service. Westminster's 5-million-gallon-per-day capacity for both services would have to increase, the report said.

The consultant assumes that half of the workers at the Finksburg park would be county residents earning an average of $26,000 a year. They would add $1.7 million in income taxes to county coffers, the report predicts. Businesses would generate another $1.5 million each year in property taxes. The figures are based on 1997 dollars.

Although the report is rosy for the long term, it has cooled the ardor of at least one of Carroll's three county commissioners.

"I'm glad we had the study done before we acted," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "We'll get a much larger return looking at other sites," as for North Carroll Business Park in Hampstead.

Brown does not envision a zoning change for the site in the foreseeable future. He would not consider one unless the property owners requested it during the next comprehensive rezoning of the county, he said.

Allan L. Davidson and Wilfred S. and Annie H. Hoff, who own three parcels comprising 80 percent of the land at the site, could not be reached for comment.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates disagree with the consultant's finding that the Finksburg site will not be viable for 10 to 15 years.

"If it had water and sewer, it would be better than the air business park" in Westminster, Dell said. "If it had infrastructure, it would be an excellent spot, as opposed to [North Carroll Business Park in] Hampstead."

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