Precious land

Industrial zoning: Once Baltimore County reclassifies it, the inventory will be depleted.

November 25, 1999

FOUR years ago as part of the Baltimore County's quadrennial rezoning cycle, the owners of a depleted White Marsh sand and gravel quarry sought to change the property's zoning from industrial to commercial. Had the County Council granted this request, General Motors wouldn't be building the $250 million Allison transmission plant there today.

Instead of a plant employing 500 workers that will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in local taxes, the county could have had one more big box store employing low-wage workers and yielding far less tax revenue.

As this year's rezoning cycle begins, the County Council needs to keep this perspective in mind.

Two of the county's larger companies -- Sweetheart Cup Co. and Procter & Gamble -- want to reclassify some of their land as commercial, claiming they no longer need the acreage. Industrial-zoned land is like farmland, though. No one is making anymore.

Baltimore County has roughly 23,000 acres of industrial land, of which some 30 percent is undeveloped. "Once we remove an acre, where are we going to get an acre to replace it?" asks County Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller. "These parcels are our jewels."

Sweetheart Cup and Procter & Gamble are likely to plead they are obtaining no return from their unused industrial acreage. Locating discount stores, fast-food restaurants or car dealers on these parcels might improve the companies' cash flow.

But the council has an obligation to give the greater weight to the county's long-term economic development needs.

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