County plan stirs concern

Proposal for commercial growth, employment zone on Route 140 opposed

`Too much industry here already'

Finksburg

July 20, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Finksburg Planning Area Council has grave concerns about some elements of a proposed corridor plan for a stretch of Route 140, especially the creation of an employment campus zone on land next to the Gerstell Academy.

The county's planning proposal is to be outlined at 11:30 a.m. today at a Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission work session.

"We're not in favor of an employment campus here in Finksburg," said John R. Lopez, president of the community association. "There's too much industry here already. Finksburg has only got one route - 140 - and it's so congested now," he said.

Finksburg was once a designated growth area, said Matthew W. Simmont, the county's planning manager and area planner for Finksburg since 2000. The corridor plan would replace the larger community planning area that dates from the 1960s, when water and sewer service was planned for the area.

The proposed corridor runs from state-owned reservoir land at the Baltimore County line to Bethel Road, he said, and is up to a quarter-mile wide. The acreage for the employment campus zone lies beside the Gerstell Academy at 2500 Old Westminster Pike and comprises about 180 acres of mostly open land that backs onto the Liberty Reservoir watershed, including about 20 acres of the Todd Village trailer park, he said.

The Carroll County commissioners adopted the new employment campus zone in April - and the county hopes to put one in each of its eight incorporated municipalities, as well as Finksburg, said Steven C. Horn, Carroll's planning director.

The zoning, which would allow mixed commercial and light-industrial development in a uniform layout, is meant to attract higher-paying jobs to the county.

Several possible uses

Among the possible uses listed in the ordinance are: computer services, engineering and scientific research and development, hotels, pharmaceuticals, office and communications equipment, business and professional offices, colleges and universities, and other similar uses. Services such as banks, food retailers, dry cleaners, day cares, health clubs and security companies would be allowed but restricted in size and number.

"It's primarily designed to further high-end job growth," Horn said. "One of the things we like is the proximity to the school."

Gerstell Academy's founder, Frederick G. Smith, a dentist and a vice president of Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc. in Baltimore, said he would like to see the change but has "no immediate plans." He said he hasn't spoken with the county for about two years.

"All I know is that I have been aware that the county is trying to do something," he said. He acquired the land by the school about a year ago for the nonprofit Freven Foundation that funds the Gerstell Academy, which has pupils in prekindergarten through fifth grade.

"I'm interested because anything that we can do to support the school is good," Smith said of developing the land.

Instead of Finksburg, Lopez said the association thinks the county "should focus on the planned complex at Warfield," a planned business and academic center in Sykesville.

In addition to traffic concerns and the lack of water and sewerage, Lopez said, reducing the planning area to a corridor might mean losing control of development.

Alternative suggested

"We don't want to see conservation land all of a sudden get gobbled up," he said. He also suggested redeveloping existing commercial buildings in Finksburg "rather than 150 to 200 acres of beautiful open space."

"The redevelopment concept in the old section of Finksburg has merit," said Horn. "And any development that takes place in Finksburg has to take place in a way sensitive to environmental factors there, especially regarding the reservoir. That would be one of the principle concerns about what we do in that area.

"It's a proposal, at this point, something for the planning commission to decide whether it's something they want to explore," said Horn. "We'll take further direction from them."

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