Sweetheart plan causes bitterness

Residents say county, state ignored them in warehouse deal

An "underhanded trick"

Town council opens minutes to show concerns were aired

September 16, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Several Hampstead-area residents are fuming because local and state officials did not require a traffic study as they brokered in private a deal for a new 1 million-square-foot distribution center off Route 30 outside the town.

Sweetheart Cup Co.'s distribution center will be one of the largest warehouses in Maryland and will have 75 to 125 tractor-trailers rolling every day onto a congested Route 30.

Mayor Christopher M. Nevin and town council members, including Lawrence Hentz, are frustrated that concerns they raised in closed meetings as recently as March were ignored, after they were excluded from the final negotiation stage.

"This whole deal is a dirty, underhanded trick," said Herbert Hewlett, who lives across Route 30 from the entrance to the Black & Decker Co. plant, which will serve as the entrance to the Sweetheart Cup distribution center when it is completed in the spring or summer. Hewlett said he and other Hampshire Road residents have trouble turning from their street onto Route 30. The light for Black & Decker, installed and maintained by the factory, is set so that it benefits only the company's traffic, Hewlett said.

No traffic study was required because the Sweetheart project will use Black & Decker's access to Route 30, said David Buck, a State Highway Administration spokesman.

State highway officials said they had no objection to the site plans, according to a letter the state sent last month to the county Bureau of Development Review.

SHA officials noted some changes may be needed in the traffic signal and road striping at the Black & Decker entrance once they have a better understanding of Sweetheart's impact on the intersection. But none of those changes would be major, according to the letter.

Buck said documents indicate the county would accept responsibility if any improvements are needed. But he said the additional truck traffic from Sweetheart Cup was expected to be similar to what Black & Decker had generated before it recently scaled back its plant operations.

John T. Lyburn, director of the county's Department of Economic Development, said he has been working with the state for 19 months on the deal to bring Sweetheart Cup to Hampstead to keep the company in Maryland.

Most of the incentives offered to the company were from the state, Lyburn said, with the county offering up to $175,000 toward training for any Carroll residents hired to work at the center. Lyburn said it is expected to employ 135 people, some of whom will be transferred from Owings Mills, where the company is headquartered.

Hewlett said the county and state pushed the project through the review process behind closed doors without regard to nearby residents, and the only reason town officials are angry is because Sweetheart Cup managed to work the deal without being annexed into the town.

The town initially had talks with Lyburn and Sweetheart Cup about annexation as a way for the distribution center to use public water. Minutes of a closed meeting in March between town officials, Lyburn and the company indicate the town officials raised several concerns and said that water could be provided only through annexation.

The council voted Tuesday night to make those minutes public, as proof that it raised the same concerns that residents have raised.

Hewlett said the town should have sought public input before the deal's completion, and has done so now only because it was shut out.

Council members had also wanted to have Sweetheart Cup and the developers, Capelli Enterprises Inc. of New York, donate to the state land that could be used for a Route 30 bypass.

The bypass project had been approved by the state but is delayed while state and federal officials study the impact on bog turtles, an endangered and federally protected species, that live along the proposed route.

While Hewlett's main concern is about traffic, other residents, especially those along Houcksville Road, are worried about the way the building will look and that something so large will go up with such little input from them.

"This project was done, I can tell you, very, very rapidly," said Stephen Brezler, of Houcksville Road.

He told council members and Lyburn on Tuesday night that a few days before groundbreaking was too late to be briefing the public on the project.

"This is the first opportunity anyone in the community has had a chance to comment on this," Brezler said.

Hampstead residents may have been surprised by the speed at which Sweetheart Cup's plans were approved by the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, said Stephen A. Ford, development review supervisor for the Bureau of Development Review. But the quality of the review was not compromised by the fast-track approach, he said.

"We addressed everything that needed to be addressed," Ford said.

The plans were sent to more than a dozen government agencies, including departments of forest conservation and fire protection and the State Highway Administration.

Hewlett said he was the only person to comment on the agreement when it was made public at the county's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last month.

Sun staff writer John Murphy contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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