Finksburg opposes employment zone in loud, clear voices

About 100 residents tell county officials they don't want Route 140 changes

October 14, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County planners found a room full of opposition to their suggestion for an employment campus zone in Finksburg, part of a proposed new comprehensive plan for the Route 140 corridor.

More than 100 people turned out for the presentation Tuesday night at Sandymount Elementary School, encouraged by the Finksburg Planning Area Council Inc., whose president John R. Lopez, has previously conveyed the council's concerns about the proposal.

The idea for an employment campus zone has been around for about five years, said Steven C. Horn, Carroll's planning director. It was generated by the planning staff at the suggestion of the county's former economic development director, Jack Lyburn, in an attempt to boost the county's commercial and industrial tax base.

Carroll ranked second in the state in its percentage of residential land, with 80.9 percent in July, said Matthew W. Simmont, the county's planning manager and the Finksburg-area planner since 2000. But the county is third from last in percentage of commercial land, at 8.8 percent, and 16th in the state with its 2.5 percent industrial base.

"Residential development takes up most in terms of services from the county," Simmont said.

With an eye toward improving these percentages, the Carroll County commissioners adopted the new employment campus zoning category in April and hope to put one in each of its eight incorporated municipalities, as well as Finksburg, Horn said.

Residents got down to basics after the planners' presentation.

"How big will the buildings be behind my house? How many trees will be cut down?" asked Dewan Williams of River Downs. "I don't want to take a bath and look at an office building."

"I'll go out on a limb here," Horn said genially, "and take it to the planning commission if the community is opposed to the employment campus."

"All opposed, raise your hands," Williams said to the crowd, which responded with a show of hands and vigorous applause.

Several people said they moved to the area to get away from traffic and development. A 2001 survey that drew responses from almost one-third of Finksburg-area residents showed their major concerns were traffic and development.

Debbie Lockwood, of Jason Acres, drew applause when she wondered what kind of "epiphany" planners might have had in choosing an area for development that has "no public water and sewer, and no access, no egress."

Other open land in Carroll toward Taneytown is large enough, she said, "to build something like Microsoft on it, but this little plot of land is going to save Carroll County?"

After more than an hour of sometimes heated comments and applause for those speaking in opposition, Horn concluded, "I think at this point I have, I have a good idea where the group is on this issue."

Asked what he would tell the planning commission, Horn replied, " I would say there were close to 100 people here and that I would say the majority in the room, a large majority in the room ... "

"Vast," one suggested. "The entire room," yelled another.

" ... that we have over 100 folks, a lot of opposition, a lot of good questions, and basically opposed to the placement of an employment campus here," he concluded.

The Finksburg plan would run from the state-owned reservoir land at the Baltimore County line to Bethel Road, and is up to a quarter-mile wide. The property suggested by Lyburn for the employment campus zone is adjacent to the Gerstell Academy at 2500 Old Westminster Pike and consists of about 160 acres of mostly open space that backs up to the Liberty Reservoir watershed.

Employment campus zoning would allow mixed commercial and light-industrial development in a uniform layout, meant to attract higher-paying jobs to the county. Construction would have to be of brick and glass, Simmont said, and while the maximum height of 120 feet might permit a 10- or 12-story building, the realities of well-water pressure make that scale unlikely.

If a developer were to set up such a campus, tenants might include 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 care centers, health clubs and security companies would be allowed but restricted in size and number.

The planning commission will hold another work session at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 on plans for Finksburg and Mount Airy.

The planning commission would have to schedule public hearings before any plans are approved and sent to the county commissioners for approval.

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