Commissioners to tour labs before zoning vote

Farmland would be opened to bioscience facilities

Carroll County

July 14, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Before voting on a zoning amendment that would open farmland to bioscience research facilities, the county commissioners will tour Spring Valley Laboratories in Woodbine.

Spring Valley, a 110-acre farm, has housed labs for breeding and testing animals since 1980. The business tests vaccines and has contracts with the National Institutes of Health and several private companies. It also is involved in bioterrorism research.

The laboratory, which employs 30 scientists and lab technicians, had a payroll of nearly $1.2 million last year.

"I would like to see this facility before we vote," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "This is a new ordinance, and we feel we need to be really careful."

The visit will be time well spent, said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich.

"I see this as the opening of doors to this kind of industry, exactly what we are looking to attract," Minnich said. "We need to make sure we don't over-restrict, but also that the public is confident that we are not opening the door to Pandora's box."

The proposed amendment calls for a 400-foot setback from adjoining properties, a provision Westminster attorney Charles O. Fisher called too restrictive.

"If the ordinance does not unduly restrict, other such companies might be attracted to come here," said Fisher, who represents Robert Shaw, Spring Valley's owner. "When you say 400 feet away from everything, you are just wasting space."

Fisher said too many restrictions hamper economic development.

"I want to see us expand and bring jobs here," Fisher said. "We have to be conscious of restrictions."

Neil Ridgely, the county's zoning administrator, who helped craft the proposal, said he will keep an open mind but that he is comfortable with the setback as proposed.

"It is important to have setbacks from adjoining properties, a spatial separation between businesses and residences," Ridgely said. "Four hundred feet is very typical with other conditional uses."

Jack Lyburn, the county director of economic development, said the proposed zoning could make biotech businesses possible throughout Carroll's extensive agriculture areas. He pushed for reducing the setback to 200 feet.

"These are the most highly regulated industries anywhere," Lyburn said. "This is the type of business we are looking for, the kind we really need in Carroll County. It fits in with our strategic plan."

Charles Wheatley, a Westminster attorney, also spoke in favor of the zoning.

"The biggest mistake you could make is to make it too hard for this industry to move here," Wheatley said.

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