Abandoned hospital site may be used for parkland But state officials balk at $2 million for razing 18 buildings

July 19, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Interim state Comptroller Robert L. Swann said Maryland should convert an abandoned hospital in Marriottsville -- until this week under consideration for a controversial humanitarian center -- into parkland.

At a Board of Public Works session Friday in Annapolis, Swann said it is time for the state Department of Natural Resources to take over the 70-acre Henryton Hospital property, which adjoins Patapsco State Park.

The board, which includes Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, makes the final decision on the disposition of all state properties. "It is a measure we can review," Dixon said. "It makes sense when all the land surrounding it is parkland."

However, Dixon noted that converting the hospital site into parkland would mean razing 18 asbestos-laden buildings at a cost of about $2 million, money state officials have said they are unwilling to spend on the property.

The treasurer will wait to see if the state real estate office can attract a buyer who would put Henryton back on the tax rolls -- a difficult task it has not accomplished since the hospital was vacated about 15 years ago.

The board officially rescinded a lease agreement with Harvest International Inc., a humanitarian organization that had plans to convert Henryton into an international aid center.

The agreement had been controversial since it was signed last year. The lease was contingent on Harvest International winning local approval for the $5.6 million project, which would initially include a homeless shelter and drug rehabilitation center.

The organization signed a 15-year lease in September that entailed an annual rent of $5,000, with an option to buy at the end of the agreement.

To begin work on the property, Harvest International had to obtain zoning approval for its Henryton City of Hope.

The project spawned intense opposition from neighbors, who collected 600 signatures and insisted the Board of County Commissioners deny any change in the conservation zoning. All three commissioners added their voices to the opposition.

"It became difficult to obtain local approvals, and our approval had been based on that," said Dixon.

After repeatedly delaying the effective date of the lease and faced with what it perceived as insurmountable difficulties, Harvest International asked Tuesday to be released from the deal.

"Now it is a question again of what to do with 50 acres and some 228,000 square feet of facilities," said R. Stevens Cassard Jr., assistant secretary for real estate at the state Department of General Services.

Since the hospital closed in 1985, the state has spent about $100,000 annually for security and minimal maintenance. Henryton was offered to every state agency and declared surplus four years ago. Asbestos problems and its isolated location along the South Branch of the Patapsco River deterred many potential users.

State Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican who had supported Harvest International's plan, said residents might get a neighbor they would find more objectionable than the humanitarian group, and they might have little input into the decision.

"The state could decide to put anything it wants there and it would not be subject to Carroll County zoning laws," said Haines.

"We had a nonprofit willing to rehab the buildings. Now the state has back on the market a $2 million liability, costly to maintain and secure. Whatever happens now will cost taxpayers a lot of money. City of Hope would have lightened the taxpayer burden and created economic development."

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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