UMBC scales back plans for technology park

Pledge ends dispute with neighbors who have environmental concerns

March 31, 2000|By Liz Atwood and Dan Thanh Dang | Liz Atwood and Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has agreed to scale back its new high-tech research park, ending a decade-long battle with neighbors who feared the development would crowd roads and damage the environment.

The agreement clears the way for the research park, which is designed to bolster the west side's economy, and apparently comes in time for UMBC to meet its goal of a spring groundbreaking. Neighborhood opponents agreed to drop their legal challenges in exchange for the university's promise to limit the development to 35 acres.

"We're very pleased," said Berchie Lee Manley, president of the Coalition for the Preservation of Southwest Baltimore County, which fought the development. "The original plan was for 12 buildings. There will only be five built now."

The deal also drew praise from research park officials, who have signed one tenant and hired a developer for the project, which should create about 750 jobs.

The university has tried for a decade to develop the site bordered by Sulphur Spring Road and UMBC Boulevard in Catonsville. Original plans called for 12 buildings on 93 acres. But in the face of community opposition, the school scaled back those plans in 1996 to 41 acres with five buildings.

Nearby residents complained that the project was an industrial park that would change the character of surrounding neighborhoods. County officials, however, said the project would boost employment and attract businesses to the area.

After months of negotiations then, UMBC said it would not develop the rest of the site and instead use it for environmental research. But opponents, who labeled the project an industrial park that would be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood, insisted those promises be put in writing.

The years of fighting were characterized by defeats and victories on both sides.

The research park initially signed Atlantic Pharmaceutical Services, which makes small batches of pills and capsules, but that company grew tired of the legal wrangles and built its offices elsewhere.

In October, RWD Technologies, a Columbia-based technology training and consulting company, announced that it would move into the park. But UMBC hardly had time to celebrate that announcement when it was dealt another setback.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that county officials erred by failing to consider the research park's compatibility with nearby residential communities. It ordered a new hearing on the matter.

That obstacle was removed when the Baltimore County Council passed a law exempting university-affiliated research parks from having to be compatible with neighborhoods.

The recent agreement settles all remaining challenges to the plan, including a ruling by a Baltimore County Circuit judge that opponents had been denied their right to appeal a change in UMBC's development plan that added 5 acres to the project.

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