Residential development squeezes industrial land

In Carroll, Grumman sues to block rezoning that limits expansion

Industry wooed for jobs

August 25, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Northrop Grumman makes some of the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world, but in fast-growing southern Carroll County, the company faces an enemy its missiles can't destroy: suburban sprawl.

Grumman is fighting a decision by Sykesville officials to rezone a hilly, 32-acre tract next to the company's plant -- a move that would shift usage from industrial to residential.

Although town officials were willing to accommodate new homes in the area, Grumman, which recently sued to block the rezoning, fears the change will limit its ability to expand on its 33-acre parcel.

That tension -- as new homes and stores encroach on land set aside for industry -- is becoming more and more common in Baltimore's suburbs.

As acreage is chewed up by the homes and stores, counties are struggling to ensure that enough property remains for factories and research parks, which generate taxes and provide high-paying jobs.

Meanwhile, disputes have arisen throughout the suburbs on how best to develop remaining parcels.

"We all feel something of a crunch for sites," said Janice Posey, director of the Office of Business Services with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

In Baltimore County, officials seeking to preserve a dwindling supply of industrial land have fought attempts to build stores, homes and a church on parcels zoned for manufacturing.

In Carroll County, economic development officials believe they are missing chances to attract high-paying business to the bedroom community and hope to rezone 1,000 acres for industry.

And in Harford County, officials became concerned two years ago that the county lacked sufficient industrial land and rezoned 661 acres near Perryman from residential to light industrial.

Though manufacturing doesn't dominate the state's economy as it once did, Maryland still has about 176,000 manufacturing jobs, according to state figures.

Five years ago, if a manufacturer wanted to open a Baltimore-area plant, Thomas Burns could offer a choice of at least 15 sites.

Today, "I might have a handful, if that," said Burns, vice president of Manekin LLC, developers of industrial, office and commercial properties. "The sites are limited and the land prices have escalated in the last three years."

Most factories are not the large, smoke-stack polluters they once were. But finding room for even high-technology and research and development firms has become increasingly difficult. The most critical need is for sites served by water and sewer lines that can be developed quickly.

But properties near these services often are close to homes as well, creating tensions between homeowners and businesses.

"The neighborhoods are getting closer and closer to industrial neighborhoods," said William A. Badger Jr., president of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

Mary Rosso has lived more than 30 years near an incinerator, a truck company and other heavy industry on the Marley Neck Peninsula in Anne Arundel County. In 1986, she and her neighbors persuaded the county to rezone 1,200 acres from industrial to residential.

Major landowners have proposed hundreds of homes on the peninsula -- homes whose residents will demand schools, roads and other services. But Rosso believes she and her neighbors were right to fight for the rezoning: "I didn't have any qualms about what we did and why we did it."

Other areas also have struggled over whether land should be used for houses or factories.

In 1996, Robert L. Hannon, Baltimore County's economic development chief, successfully fought an attempt to rezone the 160-acre Highlands from manufacturing to residential.

Although the planning board advocated rezoning because the Sparks property had been undeveloped for years, Hannon persuaded the County Council to keep the zoning industrial.

Soon afterward, Integrated Health Services Inc., a provider of post-hospital services, bought the land for its headquarters.

Industrial land is threatened not only by houses, but by stores and churches.

Two years ago, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church tried to buy a 37-acre, Owings Mills tract zoned for light industry.

County officials urged church officials to consider other sites so the land could be preserved for industry, and Bethel eventually abandoned that site as too costly to develop. The church is looking at a nonindustrial site in Granite.

In Carroll, where most residents travel to jobs in other jurisdictions, economic development officials are urging the county to rezone 1,000 acres next year to accommodate factories.

"We have a lot of interest," said Jack Lyburn, executive director for the Department of Economic Development. He said the county loses several opportunities a year to attract companies because it lacks enough industrial land ready for development.

Anne Arundel County has land for industrial growth, Badger said, but added that the county might need more to support a government operating within the confines of a property tax cap.

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