Shelter for addicts in Marriottsville opposed Owings Mills charity needs zoning change

November 09, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A humanitarian organization faces stiff local opposition and intense official scrutiny of its $5.6 million proposal to convert a state hospital in Marriottsville into a homeless shelter and training center for recovering substance abusers.

Harvest International Inc. signed a 15-year lease with the state for Henryton Hospital two months ago, but in response to neighbors' opposition it deferred the effective date of the lease to Dec. 31.

Representatives of the organization attended a public hearing in Eldersburg yesterday but did not comment.

They have participated in two public hearings, which "were nothing more than venting," said Samson Doolin, Harvest International director.

The Owings Mills-based charity plans to build City of Hope on the 50-acre property near the Patapsco River in southern Carroll County.

The lease requires Harvest International to pay $5,000 annually and all costs to improve the 18 aging buildings.

The hospital, built in 1923 for tuberculosis patients, has been vacant since 1984.

The state has tried to market it for seven years, but the remoteness of the area and expensive asbestos abatement, estimated at $2 million, dampened the interest of most developers.

For the City of Hope plan to proceed, Harvest International must ask Carroll County to remove the property's conservation zoning, a request it has not made.

County Commissioners could grant a rezoning if an applicant showed there had been a substantial change in the character of a neighborhood or a mistake in the original zoning.

"Even if that occurs, the commissioners are not bound to grant a change," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown told more than 100 residents. "The County Commissioners control this situation. We have the authority to regulate the use."

Although the state has sovereign authority over its property, Commissioner Richard T. Yates said, "the lease means the petition has to come through local zoning."

Brown noted the irony of two state agencies working at cross-purposes. The Department of Natural Resources has condemned private property near Henryton to expand Patapsco Valley State Park, which adjoins the hospital, but the Department of General Services is ridding itself of 50 acres rather than spend $2 million to remove asbestos, Brown said.

If Carroll rejects the zoning petition, the state could maintain the property and allow Harvest International to administer a program there.

"But, I cannot believe they would compound the mess they are already in by shoving the project down our throats," Brown said.

Howard County Councilman Charles C. Feaga complimented the commissioners on their detailed presentation of zoning regulations and their restrained comments. Because he will not be deciding the future of the project, Feaga said, he could be more outspoken. Yet he did not take a stand on City of Hope.

"I am confident of your final decision, but I will not ask you for it," Feaga told the commissioners.

The project has the support of Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's legislative delegation. Haines did not attend the meeting, at Liberty High School.

"I cannot imagine anyone who wants to be elected in Carroll County would go along with this project," said Gene Edwards of Eldersburg.

Since the proposal became public, residents have circulated petitions and marshaled their opposition. Many voiced concerns for safety, cost to taxpayers and declining property values in two previous meetings. A neighborhood group is developing a strategy for public hearings and court appeals. Residents are searching for creative ways to cancel the lease, possibly designating the south branch of the Patapsco a wild, scenic river -- which would prohibit development of any type.

Thom McKee of Henryton Road offered to lease the land for the same terms granted Harvest International and donate it to the county as parkland.

"The state did not offer any developer the incredible terms it gave Harvest International," McKee said. "This is a real estate deal that is all fluff and no substance."

Residents complained that the lease lacked specifics and limitations. They claimed Harvest International has been evasive in answering their questions. The project would bring city problems to an isolated rural area, many said.

Tom Marney of Howard County questioned the cost to Carroll County, which has no resident police force and, in many areas, crowded schools.

"This is a project that would generate no tax revenue," Marney said. "Our challenge is let the rest of the county know how much this will cost."

Of the more than 30 speakers, only a few supported the project. Leo Vogelsang of Winfield quoted Scripture and said, "Those with plenty should listen to the cries of the poor."

The Rev. Brian W. Jackson, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Sykesville, said he is calling on south Carroll churches to support the project. He said he was appalled that an affluent area would so callously reject the less fortunate.

"Sooner or later, this county will have to address these issues," Jackson said.

While residents recognize the need for humanitarian services, they said the project should be in areas where the need is greatest.

Introducing the homeless and substance abusers to a rural area "will put the entire county at risk," Marney said. "What value will the entire park system be, if people are afraid to use it?"

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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