4-3 vote clears way for housing

Council OKs rezoning of Raincliffe

owner plans 150 houses on site

May 12, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Sykesville Town Council's rezoning of Raincliffe Center has paved the way for a 150-house development on the unimproved 32-acre site, once the community's only industrial property.

Mayor Jonathan Herman's vote in favor of rezoning the site for residential use broke a 3-3 tie shortly after midnight Monday and followed a five-hour public hearing.

"Basically, I felt there had been a change in the neighborhood that warranted a rezoning," Herman said.

The most significant change was the town's recent annexation of the Warfield Complex, 15 aging buildings on 138 acres that Sykesville plans to turn into an employment campus, Herman said.

"Raincliffe was not going anywhere as far as industrial development," said Councilman Michael Burgoyne, who favored the rezoning. "With Warfield coming on line, it was never going to go anywhere. Warfield made a dramatic change in the neighborhood."

Raincliffe Center could become another subdivision in the town, the population of which has grown by more than 1,100, to 3,500, since 1990.

Owner David Moxley said Ryland Homes, a national builder, is interested in constructing 91 townhouses and 64 single-family homes on the property.

"If you don't focus residential growth around the towns, where else will you focus?" Herman asked. "This is consistent with the county's master plan and with the governor's Smart Growth."

Wetlands, rock deposits and the hilly terrain made it impossible to market the property to business or industry, Moxley said. If he builds houses, he said, he could work around those constraints.

The council had heard hours of testimony Monday, most of it from attorneys representing Moxley and Northop Grumman, a manufacturer that is Raincliffe's nearest neighbor.

"Northrop Grumman is disappointed in the Sykesville Town Council's vote. By rezoning the property from industrial to residential, the company will be significantly restricted in the future use of its property," the company said in a statement yesterday.

The defense contractor, which has 350 employees at its Sykesville location, opposes homes so close to its plant, which sits on 35 acres. Homes would also have an impact on the company's expansion, reducing its buildable land by nearly 30 percent because of county limits on construction near residential property.

In several discussions before the hearing, Moxley and the company could not break an impasse. The developer had proposed including on the site a 35-foot buffer between the two properties, but Northrop Grumman has insisted on at least 170 feet.

"Northrop Grumman had valid points about encroachment," said Burgoyne. "There has to be a buffer, but the company was going for a home run with 170 feet."

The buffer and other issues, such as traffic and the number of homes, will be addressed by the town Planning Commission, Burgoyne said. But those issues were enough for three council members to oppose the petition.

"I had concerns with industry in a neighborhood, density and traffic," said Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols. "Adding traffic to Route 32 is a worry. Even if they improve the intersection, traffic will still be horrible."

Troubled intersection

The State Highway Administration has rated the intersection of Route 32 and Raincliffe Road a failure because of accidents and delays. Moxley plans to improve the intersection and about 500 feet of the highway.

Councilwoman Debby Ellis said she could not accept a residential development that is divided from the town by a major highway.

"The tax benefit won't offset the cost of providing services," Ellis said. "Also, we are putting a lot of people at a failing intersection. I don't see any benefit."

The council had to focus on the rezoning petition in its decision and not be distracted by Moxley's inability to market the property, Northrop Grumman's planned expansion or traffic and design issues, said Burgoyne.

`A narrow issue'

"Rezoning is a narrow issue, and we cannot attach conditions," he said. "The reason had to be a change in the neighborhood or a mistake in the original zoning. Warfield made an overwhelming change."

Rezoning will allow him to begin a lengthy subdivision review process with the town and county, Moxley said. "It will probably be at least 18 months before we can begin [construction]."

Because much of the property is designated wetlands, Moxley will also have to seek permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"I feel this development will be built and we will have a say in the final product," said Nichols. "Having the Town Council split sends a strong message to the developer."

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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