Town seeks to reduce fears over annexation Warfield Complex development costs worry some residents

November 30, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville officials had hoped to have the 131-acre Warfield Complex on the town borders annexed by now, but opponents have forced the issue of annexation to referendum.

Town officials have scheduled the vote for Feb. 17 and will use the next three months to inform residents about what they perceive as the advantages of making the complex at Springfield Hospital Center part of the town.

"We have to clear the air and answer everybody's questions so there is no misinformation," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.

The mayor promised that a public forum on Jan. 25 at Sykesville Middle School will be "an opportunity for everybody that will be as frank and open as possible."

Council members will discuss financial details for renovating the 15 aging buildings at the complex. They may also authorize a survey to determine residents' opinions on the project.

"We want the public to know everything and reach a level of confidence that this property is right for the future of the town and that there are no drawbacks for citizens," Herman said.

Nearly 600 of the town's 3,500 residents signed a petition demanding a vote on the annexation.

Of those, 445 signatures were deemed valid, more than 20 percent of the 1,849 registered voters required to bring the issue to referendum.

"There seems to be a lot of misinformation about who is paying for the development," said Herman. "The town would become the conduit for developing this property. We are really looking out for the welfare of the town.

"Annexation does not cost the town anything. It simply means we have planning and zoning authority for the property. It will allow the town to facilitate good development without actually spending tax dollars," he said.

In December, the state approved the town's proposal to restore the buildings and develop Warfield as a business and industrial complex. The Town Council unanimously approved the annexation Sept. 28.

Partnership with state

The town has proposed a partnership with the state to develop and market the complex, with the two partners sharing profits from development. It has created an economic model for the site and has letters of interest for more than 60 percent of the space.

"We went a step further to promote development complementary to the town," said Herman.

Touro College in New York City and Carroll Community College are both interested in leasing space. A Finksburg business may relocate to Sykesville. Plans also call for an 80-room hotel.

Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols said annexation gives the town control of the tract and residents an opportunity to get involved in the town's growth.

"We will have no control over development if we don't annex," said Nichols. "Unplanned development is failed development."

Despite repeated assurances that the property will be an asset and not a liability to town taxpayers, annexation opponents remain unconvinced.

People should vote

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

The town has spent about $50,000 from its budget and $30,000 FTC 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 inform residents about the proposal.

"This means we need to do a lot of talking to people," said Councilwoman Debby Ellis. "We may be going door to door."

Eloise Stinchcomb, a Springfield Avenue resident, said "specific information in lay terms" will allay fears.

"After all the work and with such an excellent plan, I would hate to see this whole thing dropped," she said.

Herman sees the petitions as a reflection of residents' concerns, but he is confident officials can convince everyone of the benefits.

"This is such a good deal, and the state is such a willing partner," Herman said.

Station restored

About 10 years ago, the restoration of a train station on Main Street met with similar opposition from residents fearing it would cost taxpayers. The project moved forward with grant money, and the building houses Baldwin Station & Pub, the linchpin of Main Street revitalization, and produces monthly rental income for the town.

"What more could you ask?" said Herman. "That project succeeded, and that building looked a lot worse than the Warfield buildings."

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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