Rule wider than measure or at top of take Referendum on Warfield Vote will allow Sykesville to clarify for public its vision for redeveloping hospital site.

November 17, 1998

SYKESVILLE'S referendum on development of the newly annexed Warfield property may not have been necessary, but a sufficient number of residents petitioned for the vote, and it will be held this winter. No date has been set.

Opponents of the project say it could impose higher municipal taxes and debt on town residents. They collected 576 signatures to hold the referendum, well above the 350 names the law requires. Critics say the arguments used to persuade petition signers were misleading, that many signers viewed it as a referendum on tax increases.

Nevertheless, the referendum is a valuable opportunity for town officials to educate the citizenry about plans to redevelop the 132 acres of former state hospital land on Route 32. The scope, cost, town liability, timetable, prospective tenants, state aid, revenue prospects -- all are issues that need to be clearly explained.

A week's series of public meetings last April about Warfield was helpful, but many details of the project have emerged since. Only this month did Sykesville's consultant explain the creation of a separate "development authority" to direct the plan (insulating the town from liability).

Major concerns remain about Warfield, envisioned as a 20-year development. Extensive removal of asbestos is required in the 15 aging brick buildings. Conversion to suit modern tenant needs is a significant task. The state, a development partner with Sykesville, may give more than $4 million for improvements. Two nonprofit prospects have interest in 60 percent of the space. Revenues of $250,000 a year and 1,100 jobs may result.

So Sykesville's development of Warfield promises attractive growth, without heavy burdens on town infrastructure.

Let the public know these facts, give citizens hard information on which to affirm or reject the plans. Let the voters decide.

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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