Northrop Grumman opposes homebuilding on its borders

Company means to fight planned development

May 09, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A developer's plan to build houses along Route 32 in Sykesville faces stiff opposition from one of the county's leading industries.

The town is considering a rezoning petition that would change a 32-acre property, known as Raincliffe Center, from industrial to residential and allow for construction of 150 homes. A public hearing is set for 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Town House. Representatives of Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor whose plant adjoins the property, plan to attend the hearing to voice the company's opposition.

Northrop Grumman "has concerns over the adverse impact the rezoning could have on our engineering and manufacturing facility, including our ability to expand the operation and the employment base in the future," said Jack Martin Jr., manager of media relations for the contractor.

Housing seems to be the only option for the property, said owner and developer David Moxley. After years of trying to market the unimproved parcel, the Howard County developer has not attracted a single business. With the rezoning, he could proceed with plans to build 150 homes, including 80 townhouses. Moxley did not return phone calls last week.

"If the Raincliffe property is rezoned to residential, Carroll County zoning rules would restrict us from building within 200 feet of our property line instead of the 30 feet currently permitted," said Martin.

Although many consider Raincliffe's proximity to Interstate 70 and Route 32 as ideal for a shopping center or office complex, it has remained vacant. A business partnership with the town and a $1.5 million state grant to help develop the site failed to interest any tenants. The state rescinded the grant.

In several meetings with town officials, Moxley claimed he has marketed Raincliffe aggressively, but "the site is just not conducive to economic development, with its topography, rocks and wetlands," he said. Residential construction can work within those confines, he said. The town planning commission has recommended rezoning the land for residential use.

"We anticipate these issues will not be easily resolved," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We know Northrop Grumman is not particularly happy with the rezoning proposal. They don't feel residential development fits with what they do there."

Northrop Grumman bought the 182,000-square-foot plant -- which is outside town limits -- from Westinghouse in 1996 and made it the headquarters for its field engineering and services division. The defense contractor employs 350 in engineering, manufacturing and administration at the facility.

The company also manufactures naval systems at the Sykesville plant. Statewide, Northrop Grumman employs about 7,300, most of them at its Linthicum division.

Two years ago, the company, which has its headquarters in Los Angeles, announced plans to close its Hunt Valley operation and shift as many as 500 workers to Sykesville. Any expansion along Route 32 would be hampered if housing is built on adjacent property, Martin said. Fearing an impasse, the town urged discussions that could lead to a compromise.

"We attempted good-faith discussions with the landowner in an effort to amicably resolve our concerns and have offered a proposal we believe would be in the best interest of any new residents, but those discussions have been unsuccessful," Martin said.

The council is leaning toward rezoning, said Herman, who would not vote unless there is a tie. The council will also hear public comment on the issue.

"I am still not convinced that this rezoning is good for the town," Herman said. "South Carroll already has too many houses, and here we are adding more."

Five years ago, the Town Council rejected a similar rezoning petition from Moxley. At that time, Raincliffe was the town's only industrial parcel. With the recent annexation of the Warfield Complex, 138 acres that officials expect to make into an employment campus, the town has ample industrial land for economic development.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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