Sykesville covets riverfront parcel Town eyes deal to use land as its gateway

March 01, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville hopes it is offering Howard County a deal it can't refuse. The town is willing to landscape and maintain a 7.4-acre county-owned site across the Patapsco River from its Main Street.

The river defines the southern entrance to the town of 3,500 and marks the route for motorists driving north along Route 32. The Howard County property figures heavily in plans to reinvent Sykesville's downtown, an attempt to make it another Ellicott City, with trendy restaurants and antique shops.

Sykesville must first create an appealing gateway along the river, the south branch of the Patapsco, a consultant said. Good advice, said town officials, but it entails maintaining property the town does not own.

"The more distinctive the entrances and routes into town, the more attractive the town will be to visitors and residents," said Donald Kann, a consultant who organized a $16,000 study of the best ways to revitalize the town's Main Street. "You have to improve the Howard County end of the town."

The river could play a role in attracting residents and visitors to a string of proposed shops and restaurants, but the abandoned buildings and overgrown weeds along its shore might deter tourism.

Now, after several weeks of negotiating, Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman expects to draft an agreement, possibly with a lease arrangement, that gives Howard a well-maintained park and Sykesville a pastoral entrance. Town crews would plant shrubs, mow the grass and pick up the litter.

"Our investment at that entrance is key," Herman said.

The town has hesitated to work outside its borders, particularly in another county. Past attempts to annex the site -- including one with William Tisano, the previous property owner -- never went beyond the proposal stage.

"As far as we are concerned, we want to cooperate with Sykesville as much as possible," said Gary J. Arthur, Howard County director of recreation and parks.

Howard County purchased the property for $695,000 nearly three years ago from Tisano. The county now owns all the riverfront bordering the town.

In the past few weeks, town officials have met several times with Howard's park staff. Sykesville could participate in the Adopt-a-Park program or could negotiate an agreement for use of the property, Arthur said. Howard County's landscape architect is determining which plantings would be best for the site.

"Howard County is willing to work with the town," said Herman. "If we do any work, though, we have to recognize there is no final plan yet and whatever we do may change."

As for the fate of two large, long-abandoned buildings, once part of a cannery operation along the river, the town awaits a $40,000 study commissioned by Howard County. The study will determine if the structures, existing well and septic system are usable. Asbestos could be present in the buildings, one metal and one brick.

Sykesville developed a proposal about two years ago for converting the larger, brick building into an arts center. The height of the metal building makes it ideal for indoor recreation activities, the mayor said.

"They are great buildings, and we are still interested in all the possibilities," Herman said. "We are interested in historical preservation and would consider any re-use that is possible."

Herman also plans to discuss possible improvements to Route 32 at the south entrance to town, one of four intersections with local streets. The consultant has recommended a separate left-turn lane, a narrow median and an entry sign on a nearby embankment.

"None of these recommendations are grandiose," said Herman. "They are down-to-earth things that we can accomplish."

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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