Sykesville to seek state help with hospital site

Officials want to turn southern Carroll location into employment campus

August 30, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A new state initiative to stimulate economic development in established communities could provide Sykesville with planning and land-use expertise as the town moves forward with the creation of an employment campus, known as the Warfield Complex.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced his Priority Places strategy last month, and the town is asking that the 96-acre former state hospital property be included on the list. The designation recognizes projects that could increase economic opportunities.

The town plans to renovate a dozen former hospital buildings into a business and academic center along Route 32 in southern Carroll County. The effort, which would include a hotel and conference center, could generate 1,000 jobs.

"This is absolutely an excellent opportunity to get more recognition for Warfield," said Steven C. Horn, Carroll County's director of planning. "Warfield will be one of the county's premier economic development opportunities in the coming years."

The town is working with about $5 million in state and county funds to create a highway access road for the complex and to renovate at least one building. Several prospective tenants are interested in leasing space, town officials said.

While the Priority Places designation does not include any funds, it would make the town eligible for state planning expertise and provide Sykesville with an entry to other state agencies involved in land use.

"This is not a funding stream, but it will get you to who you need and where," said Betsy Burian, the state's deputy secretary of planning. "You will have, in essence, a project manager with the state. This initiative brings state departments together at the same table to help [designees] through the development process and possibly locate funding sources."

The governor's Smart Growth Subcabinet will review all applications and make the first designations by the end of the year.

"The idea is to focus on those areas that have infrastructure," Burian said. "Warfield is just the kind of thing we are looking for."

Sykesville will take the lead in the application process, but the county is more than willing to assist, Horn said. The short time between the governor's mid-July announcement and Wednesday's deadline, as well as vacation schedules, prevented the town from completing the application in time for the first round of reviews. But Mayor Jonathan Herman said he expects to have the work done in time for the next deadline on Dec. 1.

"This is really exciting for us, and we would love to do it," Herman said. "Our intention is to get the application done as quickly as possible."

The application would "weave together the importance of Warfield for the town and Carroll County," said Jay French, a consultant working with the town on the project. "It also includes our plan for development."

Under Priority Places, state officials plan to select about a half-dozen projects by the end of the year and give them the attention of all state agencies, with expedited review of any permits they might need. Applications are available at a Web site, www.

"Once you are there, this designation will open doors," French said. "Your development becomes a state priority. It will get you state coordination with all the agencies."

The state is looking to help "well-planned development" projects that appear likely to stimulate economic development in their communities and have the support of local leaders, officials said. Projects tapped for the program would be first in line for any state aid that becomes available.

"This designation is important on a statewide basis," said Steven D. Powell, the county commissioners' chief of staff. "It eventually will put us in the ranking for state funds."

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