Delay sought on Henryton lease Commissioners want hearing in county first

October 01, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners are asking state officials to delay until after a public hearing in Carroll signing a lease for the former Henryton Hospital in Marriottsville as a rehabilitation center for former drug users and a shelter for the homeless.

After a closed-door session with their attorney yesterday morning to discuss the proposal, the commissioners said they had been blindsided by the project and that they want the state to schedule a public hearing on it in Carroll.

"We have not received a request from anybody" concerning an international relief organization's proposal to renovate the long-vacant hospital as a vocational training school, hospice and addiction counseling center, said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "We're as much in the dark as the average citizen."

State officials and an Owings Mills subsidiary of LifeLink, a international relief organization based in Tulsa, Okla., that has operations in eight states and 19 countries, were to have signed a 15-year lease today allowing the nonprofit organization to go forward with its plans, subject to county approval.

But about 200 nearby residents -- most from Howard County -- showed up at a public hearing Monday in Ellicott City to protest. Afterward, state officials decided to wait until at least Oct. 15 to sign the lease with Harvest International, a LifeLink subsidiary and co-developer of the project.

The signing was postponed to give a citizens advisory group time to make recommendations, officials said.

Carroll's three commissioners said they needed more time to explore the proposal. Robert A. "Max" Bair, their chief of staff, told them yesterday that he had tried to get information about the project but that "there was very little forthcoming."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he had heard nothing about the project since he received a letter proposing it from Harvest International in July 1996.

"I don't know why we're being kept in the dark," he said.

State Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's General Assembly delegation, said it is "not true that the commissioners didn't know about the situation."

They were notified when Harvest International made its proposal a year ago, he said, adding: "I'm sure they got copies of everything that was sent out" since then.

The three-member state Board of Public Works -- which includes Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, who used to represent Carroll in the House of Delegates -- approved Harvest International's proposal Sept. 10. The Sun and a local newspaper have written extensively about the charity's plans for what would be called the City of Hope, Haines said.

The proposed project is "a very appropriate use for the [Henryton Hospital] property," said Haines, a Republican. "Hopefully, Harvest International will be able to continue their proposal," he said. "It is in the best interest of the citizens of Maryland to do so."

Tayo Fagbenro, organization support specialist at LifeLink's Tulsa headquarters, said yesterday that the commissioners' action has an "immediate implication" but is not a problem.

"We intend to work with all parties, public and private," he said. "Our goal is a collaborative partnership effort, something we have demonstrated in other projects in other states."

Fagbenro said he appreciates "the interest of the County Commissioners" and expects LifeLink and Harvest International to work closely with them. "I believe the commissioners will support the project as they learn more about it," he said.

The proposal calls for a three-phase development of the 50-acre hospital property during a 15-year, $5,000-a-year lease. The developers would have an option to purchase the property at the end of the lease.

Phase one of the project would cost $1.5 million and last about three years. It would provide services for the homeless, addiction rehabilitation, and a food bank, and would house a disaster relief center. A training center for LifeLink volunteers would follow, along with a family support center and a hospice.

Tom Marney, a Howard County resident who has lived on Henryton Road south of the hospital site for 20 years, is leading a protest against the proposal. Yesterday, the commissioners perused copies of Marney's "Save our Community -- Stop Harvest International!" flier as they discussed what to do about the project.

On Monday, nearby residents attending a Howard County hearing on the proposal said they feared that the project would lower their property values and might jeopardize the safety of children at a school bus stop a half-mile from the site.

Haines, who attended the meeting, said nothing he heard Monday changed his belief that this "public service proposal" is the right use for Henryton site.

He has received "threats" from Howard County residents opposed to his views, said Haines, who dismissed their objections as "typical" of people who fear change. "I don't base decisions on threats, but on what I believe is right," he said.

The proposed use is not only a social good, but an economic one, Haines said. The property has been a drain on the county since the state closed the former tuberculosis hospital in 1985, he said.

There were 55 other expressions of interest in the property after the state declared it surplus three years ago, Haines said, but all lost interest because of asbestos problems in the 18 buildings there.

Harvest International and LifeLink plan to spend $5 million cleaning up the site, Haines said. Meanwhile, the state is spending $100,000 a year to stabilize a property it hasn't used in more than a decade, he said.

In the first phase alone, the proposed renovation could create 45 jobs in the county that would pay $15,000 to $35,000 a year, Haines said.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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