Harvest ends bid to revamp hospital site Group wanted to turn Henryton into humanitarian center

'Many obstacles, hurdles'

State lease accord for City of Hope project canceled

July 15, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After months of delay and intense opposition, a humanitarian organization has abandoned its plans to renovate a former state hospital in Marriottsville into an international aid complex.

Harvest International Inc. said yesterday it would not proceed with its $5.6 million project for converting Henryton Hospital into the City of Hope, a nine-year project that would initially include a homeless shelter, drug rehabilitation center and training school.

Eventually, the complex would have an international aid and warehouse distribution center.

"Ultimately, this was Harvest International's decision," said R. Stevens Cassard Jr., assistant secretary for real estate at the state Department of General Services.

When the contract between the state and the organization was announced in September, residents objected strenuously and pressured Carroll County officials to reject any rezoning initiative for the 50-acre property. Before the project could proceed, the conservation zoning would have had to be removed. Harvest International received three extensions on the effective date of the lease. The last deadline expired July 1.

"It became quite clear that there were many obstacles and hurdles," the Rev. Samson Doolin, Harvest International president, said yesterday. "We will continue our mission of hope and serving various communities. This was just one of our projects."

Also, in a release issued yesterday, Doolin said: "Upon evaluating the circumstances surrounding the pursuit of the Henryton property, the Board of Harvest International decided, with the mutual agreement of the State, to cancel the lease agreement effective immediately."

Several public hearings last year drew angry opposition from neighbors.

County Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he was relieved the concept has died. He would prefer a light industrial complex for the site that adjoins Patapsco State Park.

"People were uneasy with the whole operation," said Yates. "I didn't see a need for the services they would offer, and they never gave straight answers about their plans. I don't think City of Hope would have moved in with good neighbors."

Preparing the original proposal and developing a concept plan represented a considerable investment for the Owings Mill-based nonprofit organization, Doolin said. The "zoning climate put Harvest International in an untenable position," he said.

All three County Commissioners opposed the plan and said publicly they would not alter the conservation zoning.

Given that opposition, Harvest International was reluctant to file a rezoning application and had asked for another extension of the lease's effective date, possibly until a new board of commissioners was elected in November. The state has granted extensions three times since September, but balked at a fourth.

"Local officials showed good common sense in refusing to rezone the property," said Tom Marney, a Marriottsville resident and opponent who helped collect 600 signatures against the project. "For nine months, this organization could not get a zoning application together. It just shows ineptitude."

The terms of the 15-year lease had Harvest International paying $5,000 annually and assuming all costs of renovation, which includes about $2 million for asbestos removal. The organization eventually would have had the option of buying Henryton for a nominal $1.

"The idea was noble and the intent good, but the location without question did not consider the residents," said Thom McKee of Marriottsville. "If the state offered me the same lease, I would be all over it. I would sign today."

Marney and McKee said they would lobby for converting the hospital property to parkland, a costly effort that would entail razing the 18 buildings.

"It would be money well-spent, because you would be really protecting 11,000 acres of parkland, making the park safe to use," said Marney.

Demolition carries a $2 million price tag. "The state is not in a position to consider that option now," Cassard said.

State Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican who supported City of Hope, said he was not surprised the deal unraveled "given the position that local officials have taken."

Rezoning can be a long, expensive procedure that a nonprofit organization can ill afford, Haines said. He criticized the commissioners for "prejudging without due process," and he noted Harvest International's good track record for humanitarian projects.

The property with its run-down buildings reverts to the state. Henryton, built in 1923 as a tuberculosis hospital, has been vacant for about 15 years. The state has tried unsuccessfully to market the center for a decade, with Harvest International emerging as the only potential user.

Cassard's office will re-evaluate the site and begin its search for a potential user. Haines said he does not expect another buyer will come forward, "not with the attitude of residents."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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