Voters might decide on Warfield complex Sykesville residents sign petition aimed at forcing referendum

November 11, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A municipal referendum could determine whether Sykesville can annex the state-owned Warfield Complex and develop the 131-acre tract into a business center.

Nearly 600 residents in the town of 3,500 signed petitions to force a vote on the proposed annexation of the complex -- 15 aging buildings that were once part of Springfield Hospital Center on Route 32.

No date has been set for a referendum.

The state formally offered Warfield to the town in December. Sykesville organized a weeklong planning session, open to all residents, in April and held several public hearings before the council unanimously approved the annexation Sept. 28.

The challenge to the annexation began with a petition drive last month.

Betty Lea Duncan, who owns property in the town but lives outside, conducted a door-to-door campaign that yielded 576 signatures, which she delivered to the Town House yesterday.

"I want everything out in the open," Duncan said. "I want to be told what is going to be there and what it will cost taxpayers. This is a small town making a commitment that the state or county did not do."

The town has spent about $50,000 of its budget and $30,000 from a state grant "for the sole [purpose] of making this process as public as possible," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager. But, he said, officials will try harder to educate people on the merits of Warfield.

"When we explain, they will say it makes total sense to annex," Candland said.

More money is coming from the state, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has promised the town $200,000 for planning and development, the mayor said.

The town has proposed a partnership with the state for developing and marketing Warfield, with the two partners sharing profits. It has created an economic model for Warfield and has letters of interest for more than 60 percent of the existing space. That information has been forwarded to state planners, Herman said.

Annexation would give Sykesville control over Warfield's development. The town has successfully managed growth in its corner of South Carroll, an unincorporated area often noted as an example of sprawl.

"Without annexation, who would be the steward of Warfield?" said Candland. "What is the No. 1 use for former state hospitals nationwide? Prisons."

Officials see the Warfield annexation as an opportunity for economic development and a means to protect its historic Main Street businesses, Candland said.

"This is a very important prospect for the town," said Debbie Scheller, a Kalorama Avenue resident who did not sign the petition. "The town should have control of what can go there and its ideas are good."

Herman sees the petitions as a reflection of residents' concerns. He hopes to use time before the referendum to explain the benefits further and to dispel misinformation.

"We have discussed all the details and mailed pamphlets to everybody in town," Herman said. "There is no financial risk to citizens. We are planning to get all funds from other sources. The project will carry itself."

Warfield could bring $250,000 in annual revenue to the town from real estate taxes and development profits, according to estimates developed by Frederick W. Glassberg, a financial and planning consultant hired by the town.

In the past several years, Sykesville has relied on impact and development review fees -- paid by new residential construction -- to improve its infrastructure, but the town is nearly at build-out.

"Without investment in and annexation of the Warfield complex, it is inevitable that taxes will be increased or the level of services provided will be dramatically decreased," said Councilman Michael H. Burgoyne in a letter to The Sun. "The development of Warfield is an investment in Sykesville's future."

To bring the annexation to a vote, Duncan needed signatures from 20 percent of registered voters, who numbered 1,849 as of Oct. 5.

"Our one agenda was to get this to a vote of the people who are taxpayers," said Duncan, who added that she will not campaign for either side of the issue.

The town must verify the signatures and schedule an election.

Clyde Springer of Spout Hill Road said he would like the referendum to be held "before the town makes too many financial commitments."

"We are talking about a potential 25-year financial commitment," said Springer. "We should vote on whether we want to participate in such a long-term project."

Charlie Mullins, a former Town Council member, said the town needs to provide all the details of the project and allow voters to make an informed choice.

"If they can prove this is not liability, we have to support it," said Mullins. "The issue is that people should vote for that complex. This is a multimillion-dollar situation. It's not like the purchase of a dump truck."

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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