Retirement community tries to sway opponents

Sykesville rezoning vote may be tonight, affecting Fairhaven headquarters

May 24, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Fairhaven Retirement Community has made one more pitch to its Sykesville neighbors, hoping to win support to build a $3.5 million corporate headquarters in town.

For Fairhaven to proceed, the town must change the residential zoning on the property to business, an action residents vehemently opposed during two lengthy public hearings. A third hearing is to be held at 7 p.m. today at the Town House.

The Town Council is expected to vote on the rezoning after the hearing.

Fairhaven administrators held out several carrots, including $1.2 million in road improvements and land for a town pool, to an audience of about 100 attending an information session Thursday at Fairhaven.

The presentation included slides of the proposed two-story building, the road improvements and other possibilities for the site on Third Avenue.

Episcopal Ministries to the Aging, parent company of Fairhaven, plans to build its offices on a nearly 3-acre plot at the north end of town, across from the main entrance to Fairhaven. The property, surrounded by residences, is the optimum site, administrators said. It has good road access and all utilities.

"At other sites, utilities and roads are just not there and not planned in the foreseeable future," said James Melhorn, EMA president. "Everything we need is at the location we selected."

Debbi Lamb, a Central Avenue resident, criticized the site, particularly when Fairhaven has about 300 acres available.

"You want to keep commercial development separate from your residences, but you are willing to put it in a residential part of Sykesville," she said during Thursday's meeting.

"Sykesville is not a bedroom community any longer," said Amber D. Curtis, a Westminster attorney representing Fairhaven in the zoning petition. "Zoning can never be permanent. When a community changes, it is appropriate to change zoning."

Mayor Jonathan S. Herman and several council members attended the meeting but would not speculate on how the vote may go.

Douglas King, the architect for the headquarters, tried to deflect residents' complaints about noise, lighting and landscaping. A proposed storm water retention pond may be scrapped in favor of an underground system, he said.

"We have tried to pick up the residential character, particularly of the older structures in Sykesville," King said.

King showed an illustration of a 30-unit senior housing building that could also be built on the property, if the center is not allowed to proceed. It would be larger than the offices, where 40 employees who work at Fairhaven would be moved.

"I would rather pass by a cluster of office buildings than a strip mall, like the one at Johnsville Road," said Lauren Ballantine of Beachmont Drive.

Administrators reminded the audience of Fairhaven's history as a good neighbor. The largest employer in South Carroll, Fairhaven supports the local fire department and has created a college scholarship fund for its teen-aged employees. It offers its meeting facilities to the town and its property for youth sports. Its staff and residents frequently volunteer in schools and local activities.

"We have presented something that is attractive and beneficial to the community," said William Dulany, chairman of the board of trustees. "We want to be good neighbors. We are showing you what we want to do and why."

Several residents remained unconvinced.

Connie Higgins of Main Street said, "No one disputes that Fairhaven is a good neighbor, but the issue is: Do we put a commercial building on the backs of homeowners?"

Pub Date: 5/24/99

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