Public quiet on rezoning proposal

Random House plan faced no opposition at open hearing

July 14, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners heard no opposition yesterday to a request to rezone a 39-acre farm owned by Westminster Rescue Mission, a step necessary for a major expansion by Random House Inc.

With the rezoning of Shalom Farm from residential to industrial, Random House Inc. can proceed with its plans to turn Westminster into its sole national distribution center.

A handful of people attended a public hearing yesterday in a small conference room at the County Office Building to hear testimony about the proposed land-use change. No one attending opposed the rezoning petition.

County planning officials, a Cockeysville real estate appraiser and Ned Cueman, Carroll's former planning director, were among those who addressed the commissioners.

"The zoning change would certainly help make room for the existing users and their potential to expand and grow," Cueman told the board.

He noted the parcel under consideration for rezoning is adjacent to 53 acres of commercial property earmarked in 1985 for industrial use. Over the years, the land was rezoned to make way for Englar Business Park, Lowe's and Wal-Mart. The need to replace the lost industrial land bolsters the rescue mission's petition, Cueman said.

By law, the commissioners have 30 days to make a decision. If they approve the request, the land-use change would take effect in 10 days -- bringing the mission one step closer to closing a deal with Random House Inc.

The publishing giant plans to buy about 12 acres from the mission. The property, bordering Random House's facility at Lucabaugh Mill Road near Route 27 outside Westminster, will be the home of a new 325,000-square-foot warehouse.

This spring, Maryland legislators agreed to award the German firm Bertelsmann AG -- Random House's parent company -- a $2.5 million grant to assist in the expansion. The commissioners have also expressed enthusiasm for the project.

"It seems like a win-win situation," said board President Julia Walsh Gouge.

"It would be good for the city, good for the county and good for both the rescue mission and Random House," added Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "It would generate more tax revenue, bring more jobs to Carroll County and expand services for people who need treatment."

If the commissioners approve the land-use change, the deal between Random House and the mission would hinge on Westminster officials, who must decide whether to extend the city's water and sewer service to Shalom Farm.

Dell and Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier asked the city Planning and Zoning Commission last week to provide public utilities to the site. Their request occurs one month after the county Planning and Zoning Commission approved a package of rezoning and site plan changes for expanding the Random House facilities. The approval was granted over the objections of Westminster officials, who noted concern about the site's lack of water and sewer service.

The city planning panel has in the past refused to extend its service area.

County officials urged the panel to consider how large a taxpayer and employer Random House is in Carroll. The company is the county's largest employer, with about 1,200 workers, and generates about $1 million a year in state taxes.

The rescue mission has 40 beds at the farm and provides free housing, clothing and counseling for men addicted to drugs or alcohol. The residential rehabilitation program relies on donations and the proceeds of a mission thrift store in Westminster Shopping Center, at Route 140 and Englar Road, selling clothing, toys and furniture.

The Rev. Clifford Elkins, the rescue mission's executive director, plans to build a 30,000-square-foot expansion of its treatment facility. It is unclear whether the county will provide financial aid for the project.

Pub Date: 7/14/99

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