County zoning changes sought

Manufacturers own Owings Mills, Hunt Valley sites

November 04, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Two major Baltimore County manufacturers are seeking zoning changes to allow stores on large tracts near their plants in Owings Mills and Hunt Valley -- requests that could bring more congestion to two of the county's busiest roads.

Sweetheart Cup Co., one of the nation's largest makers of disposable plastic and paper products, has asked the county to rezone 75 acres along Reisterstown Road that is used for industrial and warehouse purposes.

In addition, Noxell Corp., a Procter & Gamble Co. division that makes cosmetics and fragrances, wants to rezone and sell 25 acres of vacant property off York Road.

The requests -- part of a countywide rezoning process that occurs every four years -- have caused some concern among residents and local officials that both companies might be preparing to move their facilities from the area.

Sweetheart employs 2,000 people at its Owings Mills headquarters and plant. Noxell has 1,400 people working at the Hunt Valley plant that manufactures Cover Girl, Max Factor and Oil of Olay products.

But Sweetheart and Noxell officials say they have no plans to move and that the requests are an effort to get rid of land no longer needed for daily operations.

"We concluded that our land north of Wight Avenue, which is all vacant, really didn't fit into our plans," said Carroll Bodie, vice president and general counsel for the P&G cosmetics division. "We've been carrying it for 25 years now, paying taxes on it and mowing it.

"It was too small for our distribution center, it was too small for our makeup powders plant. The building economy is just booming now, and so we're thinking about selling it."

The future of every parcel in Baltimore County is up for discussion as the county begins its comprehensive zoning process -- a yearlong exercise in lobbying and deliberation that will end with each of the seven county councilmen deciding the fate of land in his district.

During the process, which began in August, any resident, developer or property owner can seek to rezone any parcel. The deadline for requests was Monday, the day Sweetheart and Noxell filed.

Both companies could face opposition to rezoning from residents and county officials. Sweetheart is at Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads, and Noxell is at York Road and Wight Avenue -- both in heavily traveled commercial corridors.

Traffic concerns

"It's not that we're for or against Sweetheart's plans," said Vicki Almond, second vice president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council. "It's just that it could have an impact on what is already a difficult intersection. We want to know what they intend on doing with the land because Reisterstown Road is extremely congested."

The same could be said of York Road, which has seen much growth in the past five years as warehouse-style stores such as Target, Home Depot and Lowe's have zeroed in on that corridor.

While Sweetheart's 75 acres and Noxell's 25 acres are no longer useful to either company's daily operations, the land is attractive to businesses looking for a good location.

"The property around them has become increasingly commercial, much more retail and becoming less desirable for industrial," said Rob Hoffman, a Venable, Baetjer and Howard attorney who filed the zoning requests for Sweetheart and Noxell. "They're using it as a planning tool."

Hearings scheduled

The planning board will hold hearings in April on rezoning requests, and the council will conduct them in the fall of next year, with final decisions due in October.

Although the council votes as a whole on each request, in reality, deference is usually given to the councilman whose district includes the property.

In this case, that is T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican. While he won't comment on the requests of Noxell or Sweetheart, the county has tried in recent years to preserve its ever-dwindling supply of industrial land, which provides higher paying jobs and higher real estate taxes than big stores.

Past rezoning attempts

In 1996, the county's economic development department successfully fought an attempt to rezone the 160-acre Highlands property from manufacturing to residential. Soon afterward, Integrated Heath Services Inc., a provider of post-hospital services, bought the land for its headquarters.

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. The church eventually abandoned that site as too costly to develop.

Four years ago, McIntire decided against rezoning land along Red Run Boulevard in Owings Mills for multi-use purposes, which he said would have allowed for warehouse-style stores, fast food restaurants and more houses.

"I decided to not grant the change in zoning because the highest and best use for that land was office buildings," McIntire said. "Quite a number of office buildings are being built there now.

"What is so attractive about keeping land zoned manufacturing can be summed up in one word: jobs."

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