Publisher's growth plan now on shelf

Westminster wants to annex 9 acres

would raise taxes

Rezoning vote delayed

State could grant $2.5 million to help construct warehouse

August 10, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Random House Inc.'s plans to turn Westminster into its national distribution center encountered a delay yesterday when the county commissioners asked for more time to discuss a rezoning request that is crucial to the company's expansion plans.

In a unanimous decision, the commissioners agreed to wait up to 30 days before voting whether to allow Westminster Rescue Mission to rezone its 39-acre property from residential to industrial use.

Random House wants to buy at least 9 acres of that property so it can build a 600,000-square-foot warehouse.

But Westminster's Planning and Zoning Commission has balked at the $30 million project, voting last month to deny water and sewer lines to that 9-acre portion of the complex unless the land is annexed. Annexation would force Random House to pay higher property taxes to Westminster -- a move the company and the county are resisting.

The county commissioners agreed yesterday that they need more time to discuss the complicated project before taking a vote.

"I don't think we should make a decision until we have all our ducks in a row," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell agreed.

"I'm not ready myself," he said.

John T. Lyburn, Carroll's economic development director who has been involved in negotiations with Random House officials, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Random House officials, who have said they are reluctant to pay additional taxes, might investigate installing a water supply.

Until this dispute with Westminster, the Random House project had sailed through the approval process. In June, the county's Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the Westminster Rescue Mission property for rezoning.

County planning staff 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. A third center, in Jackson, Tenn., will shift operations to outside publisher clients, such as Houghton Mifflin Co. and National Geographic.

This year, 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 third largest media and publishing company in the world after 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 each year in state taxes. Random House, purchased by Bertelsmann last year, opened its Westminster operation in 1966.

Under the terms of its 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: 8/10/99

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