Drug-treatment center lease deferred Henryton Hospital plan spurs fears about safety, property values

September 30, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Under community pressure, a state official and the director of a nonprofit organization deferred signing an agreement last night to lease an abandoned hospital near Marriottsville for use as a drug-treatment center.

The decision to defer for two weeks the leasing of the former Henryton Hospital was made to allow time for citizen input. It concluded a meeting at Patapsco Middle School in Ellicott City, where about 200 residents from Carroll and Howard counties protested the project, saying they feared its effect on public safety and property values.

The proposed site is in Carroll County, but the neighbors closest to the hospital are in Howard County.

R. Stevens Cassard Jr., an assistant secretary for real estate in the state Department of General Services, said an advisory group of residents would be formed to offer suggestions to officials of the state and Harvest International, the nonprofit organization.

"We made the decision with Harvest International that it is in the best interest of everyone to offer an opportunity for a citizen advisory group to add their input," Cassard said. "This is the best way to do it."

Samson Doolin, director of Owings Mills-based Harvest International, agreed but he added that his organization was prepared to start converting the 18 buildings and 50-acre campus into the City of Hope, a village offering drug treatment and other services.

"We're eager to go forward with the program, and we are ready," Doolin said.

On Sept. 10, the state Board of Public Works awarded the deserted hospital, built in 1923 as a tuberculosis center, to Harvest International, a nonprofit crisis-relief organization.

Harvest International will have to wait until at least Oct. 15 to sign a 15-year lease with the state, Cassard said. Harvest International would pay $5,000 a year in rent.

The announcement caught residents off guard.

"That was a surprise," said Tom Marney, who has lived on Henryton Road in Howard County for more than 20 years and is leading the fight against the project. "I don't know what it will accomplish, but at least it will give us some breathing room."

Others, such as Terry Cost, were not swayed.

"The words 'done deal' came out sometime during the meeting," said Cost, who has lived on Henryton Road for 20 years. "I think it's very probable that Harvest International will retain their rights to the site."

Last night's meeting between residents and officials from the state and Harvest International was organized by state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard Republican who represents the 14th Legislative District.

Although McCabe did not take a stand on the plan, his counterpart from Carroll County, state Sen. Larry E. Haines, told the audience that he supports the project.

"I believe that what [Harvest International has] to offer is a very prudent use for the property," Haines said. "I strongly believe that the residents will not be put at risk by what Harvest International is proposing."

Residents peppered Doolin with questions regarding the number of security guards, the background of the 40 to 50 substance abusers who would be bused to the site daily and how the organization would respond to a tragedy.

Area parents are concerned about sending their children to a bus stop a half-mile from the proposed site. Few cars travel Henryton Road, and the bus stop is out of sight of parents and houses.

Residents also questioned why the state didn't tell the surrounding communities about the project and didn't pursue other developers for the site.

Since the hospital closed in 1985, the state has spent about $100,000 annually for security and minimal maintenance.

Henryton was declared surplus three years ago, but asbestos problems and its isolated location along the South Branch of the Patapsco River deterred 55 potential clients, Cassard said.

He acknowledged that there was nothing in the lease agreement that would prevent Harvest International from increasing the number of treatment slots at the center.

That drew fire from residents.

"Honestly, I don't have a problem with brining in 40 substance abusers on a daily basis," said Thom McKee, who has lived in the rural Howard County community of Meadowood for about 18 months. "But there's nothing to assure me that when the governor leaves and the county executives and local lawmakers are gone, that someone is not going to change the use of that property."

Ellicott City resident Kathy Black supported the project.

"There are so many good things here," the eight-year resident of Font Hill said of the plan. "You are isolating a tiny group of people like they are people whom we don't have in our own back yards. These are people they can help."

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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