Research center still seeks tenants Court challenges to UMBC project are seen as a deterrent

October 25, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

More than three months after the start of construction at the UMBC Research Park, administrators of the southwest Baltimore County project are still trying to sign their first tenant.

Administrative appeals and court challenges to the project have put a damper on negotiations, some county officials say. Economic development director Robert L. Hannon said some companies have been reluctant to sign leases for the 41-acre park while the challenges are pending.

But that reluctance appears to be subsiding, said Ellen Wiggins. UMBC Research Park director. "The farther along with construction we get, the more interest we have in the park."

Grading and sediment control work is complete, and crews are set to extend water and sewer lines to the $40 million project on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus.

Wiggins said the infrastructure work will be finished by next summer, but construction of the first building could start sooner if a tenant is found.

"If we had a company that wanted to sign a lease, we could start a building at any time," she said.

Wiggins is negotiating with two prospects she believes will lease space in the research park. While declining to name the companies, she said one is a tenant in the university's business incubator program and the other is a telecommunications research company affiliated with university faculty.

The university began planning for the research park a decade ago, and county officials embraced it as a key to economic revitalization in the southwest.

H

But some Catonsville- and Arbutus-area residents opposed

the project, saying it would generate too much traffic in the neighborhood, burden sewer lines and threaten the streams, wetlands and wildlife on the site.

Some opponents also objected to the government assistance the project has received and to the university's involvement in business development.

In the face of such opposition, the park, originally planned to have 12 buildings on nearly 90 acres, was scaled back to five buildings on 41 acres. The remaining land, including the ruins of an inn where antebellum statesman John C. Calhoun once stayed, was set aside for a nature conservancy.

County zoning officials have approved the scaled-down project, but the residents continue to fight it. Their case is scheduled to be heard in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Dec. 17.

University officials remain optimistic about the long-term prospects for the park -- their confidence inspired by the success of the UMBC Technology Center on the site of the former Lockheed Martin laboratory in Relay. That facility is almost fully leased.

Meanwhile, research park officials are preparing to go before the county Development Review Committee in two weeks seeking to amend the park's development plan to include 5 more acres.

Wiggins said UMBC always intended to include the land, but could not do so until a zoning change was made last fall.

"We are just tidying things up a bit," she said.

Pub Date: 10/25/97

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