Council rejects Fairhaven proposal

Rezoning approval would have brought headquarters to town

May 25, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After three public hearings and hours of intense debate, the Sykesville Town Council voted 6-1 last night against a rezoning proposal that would bring a $3.5 million corporate headquarters into a neighborhood.

The mayor's promise that a vote would take place drew a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 100.

Nearly all those attending opposed rezoning residential land to business use and allowing Episcopal Ministries to the Aging to build its headquarters.

The ministry -- the parent company of Fairhaven Retirement Community, South Carroll's largest employer -- planned a series of six cottage-like buildings on a 3-acre plot at the northern end of town. The interconnected two-story buildings would provide offices for 40 employees who work at Fairhaven.

Residents have waged a campaign against the project, saying a commercial enterprise does not belong in the neighborhood. They want the property, which is surrounded by homes, to remain open space. Fairhaven has said it will be developed either as offices or condominiums.

Each council member made a statement after the vote. Most said they could not approve business zoning in the residential neighborhood.

"Rezoning cannot be a popularity contest," said Councilman Michael Burgoyne. "Certainly, public opinion is important, but it is not why we decided. Rezoning can go on for generations, and we have to look at the long term."

Connie Higgins, a Main Street resident, said before the vote that the outcome could determine whom the Town Council represents. The choice, she said, is between a multimillion-dollar corporation and town taxpayers.

"Residents have made their opinion clear," she said. "If you vote anything other than no, you do not represent this community."

To approve the rezoning, the council had to find a substantial change in the neighborhood or a mistake in the zoning. Burgoyne said he could find neither, but he added: "This property is not open space. If Fairhaven posts a no-trespassing sign tomorrow, our police chief will enforce it."

Mayor Jonathan Herman, who cast the only vote for the rezoning, disagreed and said that the neighborhood has changed. "I felt rezoning would not have a negative impact," he said. "This was a reasonable request for this property."

Many of those attending the hearing called Fairhaven a good neighbor and praised the many community projects it has sponsored. Ted Campbell, whose home is next to the proposed site, said the rezoning would cause an increase in traffic and "destroy the residential character of a neighborhood that has stood for more than a century."

Fairhaven administrators have said the property, across Third Avenue from its main entrance, is best suited for an office complex because of its access to roads and utilities.

Fairhaven's discussion and slide presentation on the project drew about 100 people last week. Fairhaven offered the town several incentives, including $1.2 million in much-needed road improvements and land for a community pool.

"We will make other plans," said Greg Burgan, Fairhaven executive vice president, after last night's vote.

William Dulany, board president of Episcopal Ministries, said that two other locations want the corporate offices and that the headquarters could be there.

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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