Sweetheart Cup building leaves new neighbors cold

Structure will be size of 23 football fields

November 02, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The front porch of Lynn Supp's 92-year-old Victorian-style house in the country used to overlook a corn and wheat field. When she noticed this summer that it had been left to weeds, she figured the rumors were true about a different kind of plant coming in.

Sweetheart Cup Co. held its ceremonial groundbreaking yesterday to celebrate the new 1.034-million-square-foot distribution center to be built just outside Hampstead, off Houcksville Road, across from an established neighborhood lined with majestic sycamore trees and period homes.

But Supp and her neighbors are not celebrating.

"You don't expect the biggest building in the state of Maryland to go up in your front yard," said Supp, a librarian in Baltimore County and a master gardener who has spent the seven years since she moved into her home planting a border on the side of her house. Now, she said, she's wondering what she can plant to shield her view of her new neighbor across the street.

According to Tom Pasqualini, Sweetheart's vice president for logistics, the new distribution center will cover 51 acres, or 23 football fields. The length of the building will run three-tenths of a mile along Houcksville Road.

It is expected to be the largest building in the state under one roof, and perhaps one of the 50 largest in the country, said Keith Curry, a logistics analyst for the company. Eighty to 125 trucks per day will bring paper and plastic cups, plates and other goods from the company's Owings Mills manufacturing center, where they will be routed for distribution throughout the mid-Atlantic and New England.

Pasqualini said Sweetheart learned only recently of the neighborhood's concerns about landscaping and aesthetics, and in response the company plans to plant more rapidly growing evergreens and deciduous trees closer to the road, and build a berm -- a raised hill -- to shield the first two stories of the building. The building will be 40 feet high, but only about 20 feet will be visible from street level, he said.

"It's a roof, I suppose, that I'm going to see," Supp said.

The building will be made of painted, tilted concrete panels. Although colors have not been chosen, an artist's rendering shows the building to be a neutral gray and taupe.

Supp and others in the neighborhood, such as Stephen Brezler and Gregory Gaspar, attended a Hampstead Town Council meeting last month at which Sweetheart officials were expected to answer questions. The officials never made it to the meeting, although county economic development director Jack Lyburn said they have a reputation for being a good neighbor.

"If they were a good neighbor, they'd be here," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin.

Supp said she and her neighbors feel left out of the process, in which the county courted Sweetheart Cup but never consulted the residents who would be affected by the center. She said she was disappointed that Sweetheart has made no direct attempt to hear their concerns.

"We really depended on the county to help us with these issues," Pasqualini said yesterday when asked about the neighbors' concerns. Residents "should feel free to call us."

Pasqualini said the company mailed invitations for the groundbreaking to the neighbors, but it was not evident whether any attended. Supp did not.

"I'm not happy about it, so I don't think they want to see me there," she said.

Earlier in the morning, Supp pointed to the heavy equipment that had started grading more than a week earlier. "You hear that sound? That backing up of a truck? That's my new alarm clock," she said.

When Supp bought her house seven years ago, the land across from her was a grain field. Corn in summer, wheat or rye over the winter and spring. She and neighbors always knew the land belonged to Black & Decker Corp. and was zoned for industrial use, but the only indication of activity they saw was a dull yellow glow from the plant's lights, across the field and behind a line of trees.

Black & Decker has been scaling back its operations and, over the summer, sold the land to a developer and is leasing back the space it still uses.

Carroll County officials have made economic development a priority this year, and yesterday were effusively praising Lyburn and others who worked to bring Sweetheart Cup to the county.

Because the county collects more from industry tax revenue than it spends to supply them with services, the Carroll County commissioners have been trying to bring more industry to increase the county's tax base.

"When I look at this piece of property, I remember it as ball fields," said Julia Walsh Gouge, commissioner president, at the groundbreaking yesterday.

Sweetheart's international headquarters are in Owings Mills. The company has its roots in Maryland Cup Co., which began making Eat-It-All ice cream cones at the beginning of this century and has become one of the world's largest manufactureres of paper and plastic food-service supplies. The Sweetheart trademark was born in the 1920s when the company started making straws, and its advertisements showed a boy and a girl sharing a soda with two straws.

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