Panel gives boost to Random House expansion

Change in site plans, zoning approved for Westminster center

June 30, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Clearing the way for Random House Inc. to turn Westminster into its sole national distribution center, the county Planning and Zoning Commission approved a package of rezoning and site plan changes yesterday for expanding the publisher's facilities.

In a unanimous decision, the seven-member commission approved plans for a 325,000-square-foot warehouse -- 47,000 square feet larger than originally planned -- at Random House Inc.'s facility on the northeast edge of Westminster. Construction is expected to be completed early next year.

The city of Westminster objected to the zoning change, saying that the property was outside its service area for public water and sewer, a necessity for industrial zoned land.

Katrina L. Tucker, a Westminster planner, said that the city's ability to provide water and sewer to the property should be evaluated before the zoning changes.

Despite the objection, the commission approved the rezoning.

The Board of County Commissioners will make a final ruling on the site plan and zoning changes.

Once the expansion is complete, the center will distribute titles under the Random House, Knopf, Ballantine, Bantam, Doubleday, Dell and Broadway Books imprimaturs. Audio titles will also be warehoused and shipped from the facility.

To accommodate the new warehouse, the commission approved the rezoning of an adjacent 39-acre parcel -- owned by the Westminster Rescue Mission -- for industrial use. Construction plans for the warehouse call for one corner of the building to cross into the mission's property, which is zoned residential.

The mission plans to sell a portion of its property to Random House Inc. for the addition and possibly other future expansions.

In a presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission, county planner Bobbi Moser said that the rezoning was justified because the character of nearby properties had changed significantly. Several commercial and industrial properties have been established or expanded in recent years, including Carroll County Airport and the State Highway Administration facility.

As part of its plans for Westminster, Random House will close two facilities in Des Plaines, Ill., in June 2000. A third center, in Jackson, Tenn., will shift operations to outside publisher clients, such as Houghton Mifflin and National Geographic.

This month, state legislators agreed to award the German firm Bertelsmann AG -- parent company of publishing giant Random House -- a $2.5 million grant to help with construction plans. The money will come from the state's Sunny Day fund, which is used to attract and retain jobs in Maryland.

Random House, the No. 3 media and publishing company in the world behind Time Warner Inc. and Walt Disney Co., is Carroll County's largest employer, with about 1,200 workers, state economic development officials said.

The Westminster facility has an annual payroll of $34 million, according to company figures provided to the state. The facility also generates about $1 million a year in state taxes.

Random House, purchased by Bertelsmann last year, opened its Westminster operation in 1966.

Under terms of the deal with the state, Bertelsmann agreed to keep 900 full-time permanent employees through Dec. 31, 2003, and to spend at least $30 million on renovation and expansion. The state grant will be distributed once the company has spent $10 million on its expansion project.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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