2 in Eldersburg want town to annex their community

Sykesville mayor, others dubious about taking in larger area

November 28, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville and Eldersburg have been friendly neighbors in southern Carroll County for years. And now two Eldersburg residents disgusted with congested roads, crowded schools and overburdened services want Sykesville to take their community from the county.

The longtime Eldersburg residents have asked the Sykesville Town Council to consider annexing the 28-square-mile area and its nearly 30,000 residents -- more than 10 times the size and population of the town.

Their union would create one of Maryland's largest municipalities, in area and population. The expanded Sykesville would have a larger population -- about 35,000 -- than Annapolis (33,585) or Hagerstown (34,105), and could become one of the major political forces in the state.

"It is like looking into the Grand Canyon and wondering where it stops," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "I can't imagine what Eldersburg would require."

Dave Greenwalt, who is raising his family in an Eldersburg home his father bought in 1969, and Marcel Van Rossum, who moved to the area more than a dozen years ago, are staring into the same abyss and seeing a colossal impact.

"We could make Sykesville one of the largest municipalities in Maryland," said Van Rossum. "Think of the political and economic might of usurping a land area of this size. It is an exciting thought."

"Not if you are sitting in this seat," said Herman.

Greenwalt and Van Rossum are planning a forum somewhere in Eldersburg -- there is no central meeting place -- to apprise residents of their plan for the area defined as Eldersburg in the Freedom/Sykesville comprehensive plan regional map.

They would have to persuade 25 percent of the registered voters and 25 percent of the owners of assessable property in Eldersburg to sign a petition for annexation. The proposal would need the approval of Sykesville Town Council, and the issue would almost certainly go to referendum.

"Legally, it is not impossible," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., president of the Maryland Municipal League. "But, the practical ramifications would make it hard to pass, practically impossible. The question is would this be in Sykesville's best interests?"

Greenwalt asked municipal leaders "to look at the oneness of it all." Van Rossum added, "We need home rule in this area."

The town, with its own police force, planning, zoning and historic commissions and solid leadership, has become the envy of its neighbor.

Unincorporated Eldersburg has no local government and no voice in its planning, which is directed by the county. As Carroll's major growth area, Eldersburg has sprawled along the Liberty Road corridor, tripling its population to nearly 30,000 in 25 years and straining its resources, schools and roads.

"We live at the will of developers," said Van Rossum. "We can't have business control our lives. Our goal is to localize government here."

Added Greenwalt: "I look around Eldersburg, and I see it crumbling from neglect. There is no planning, no foresight and nobody to take care of it."

Many residents would be willing to pay -- in addition to county taxes -- the town's property tax rate, 76 cents per $100 of assessed value, to have local government and its services, the annexation proponents said.

"Sykesville already has all the apparatus we need in place," said Greenwalt. "We could control the infrastructure of the whole place. Let's look at what is good for the whole region. We can survive together; our fates are linked. We could be all one, big Sykesville."

But, big is not what Sykesville envisioned when it enacted its Small Town Guidelines seven years ago. It intended to grow to about 4,000 residents and with few buildable lots left, it is almost there. The recent annexation of 138 acres of state-owned property, slated to become an employment and academic center, was thought to be the last major extension of town limits.

"We could lose our small-town identity," said Councilwoman Debby Ellis. "Even if we had 10 times the revenue, we couldn't solve all the problems in Eldersburg. It is so built out. What can we do to mold it?"

Betty Duncan, a lifelong town resident, likes to walk along Main Street among familiar faces.

"We stand to lose a lot," she said. "How many people in Eldersburg know each other like we do in Sykesville?"

Main Street would not change, Greenwalt and Van Rossum said. The town would remain at the core of the proposed municipality.

This is not the first time Sykesville has heard rumblings about annexation from its neighbor. Others have tried to incorporate Eldersburg, but the movement never gets off the ground. It's usually cost that stalls the efforts.

Herman has said often that Eldersburg needs help. He has long argued for better planning with county leaders.

In 1995, he wrote to them about "the child that lives next door to me, a ward of the county since its birth. It is a child with no parents, without proper care, without direction." The child now wants to move in with its neighbor, he said.

"It is too off-the-wall and will never happen," Herman said. "The town would lose its identity and be gobbled up by Eldersburg."

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