Officials approve rezoning of farm

Board's OK clears way for Random House to expand operations

August 17, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County commissioners approved a request yesterday to rezone a 39-acre farm owned by Westminster Rescue Mission, a crucial step for a major expansion by Random House Inc.

With the rezoning of Shalom Farm from residential to industrial, Random House will be able to move forward with plans to make Westminster its sole national distribution center. The publishing giant plans to buy at least 9 acres of the Shalom Farm property from the rescue mission. The land, bordering Random House's facility on Lucabaugh Mill Road near Route 27 outside Westminster, will be the home of a 325,000-square-foot warehouse.

The commissioners said they based their decision on testimony during a public hearing July 13. County planners told the board then that rezoning was justified because the character of nearby properties had changed significantly in recent years.

The rescue mission property is adjacent to 53 acres of commercial property that was 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 was a key factor in the rezoning, according to Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier.

"The changes that have taken place over a period of time is what has given us the reason for making this decision," added Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge before calling the vote. The three-member Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning request.

As part of its plans for the $30 million expansion project in Westminster, Random House will close two facilities in Des Plaines, Ill., in June. A third center, in Jackson, Tenn., will shift operations to outside clients, such as Houghton Mifflin Co. and National Geographic.

Last 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 money will come from the state's Sunny Day fund, which is used to attract and retain jobs in Maryland.

Under terms of its deal with the state, Bertelsmann must maintain 900 full-time permanent positions through Dec. 31, 2003, and spend at least $30 million on renovation and expansion. The state grant will be disbursed when the company has spent $10 million on its expansion project.

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 reported 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.

"This is positive for the rescue mission, positive for Random House and positive for the county," Jack Lyburn, the county's director of economic development, said of the commissioners' decision. "It will expand our industrial base and allow the rescue mission to expand the great services it provides for the community."

The rescue mission has 40 beds at the farm and provides free housing, clothing and counseling for men addicted to drugs and 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.

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.

In other business, the county commissioners approved plans to proceed with the sale of a portion of the 114-acre Westminster Nurseries Inc. property to a developer who would like to build an assisted-living facility on Route 140 near Center Street. Economic development officials would not disclose the name of the developer or details of the transaction.

The commissioners also approved the creation of a new position in the Sheriff's Department to address personnel and fiscal agencies within the department. The approved annual salary for the job is $33,911.

Pub Date: 8/17/99

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