County, town join in bid to buy land

Partners seek 55 acres state expects to sell at Springfield Hospital

December 07, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A newly formed partnership between Carroll County and the town of Sykesville hopes to acquire a 55-acre parcel at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville and plot its future.

The state expects to make the Martin Gross Complex available for redevelopment within a year and has launched a review process that could lead to the sale of the property.

The complex, which includes a dozen century-old, vacant buildings at the state-owned hospital for the mentally ill, is located at the northern end of the 500-acre hospital campus with easy access to Route 32.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has requested a review of the property before declaring it surplus to its needs, a process that involves notifying state agencies, local governments and the General Assembly.

In a letter to the Maryland State Clearinghouse, county and town officials offered to provide "comprehensive master planning" for the site with the goal "to identify and enlist a private developer to implement" their plan.

"Along with the county, we can work out the planning details for the Martin Gross Complex and come up with something that will complement the existing community at the hospital site and work well with the neighborhood," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We are not coming into this with a lot of preconceived ideas, but proper planning is the key to development."

The state has recent experience with reusing the hospital's resources. Last week, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. dedicated the $44.2 million academic area of the Maryland Public Safety Education and Training Center, whose core is two former Springfield buildings. At the dedication, Ehrlich said reusing surplus buildings reflects the policy of his administration.

Sykesville also has experience with rehabilitating Springfield's aging buildings.

After the state declared as surplus a dozen former hospital wards, known as the Warfield Complex, eight years ago, the town launched an ambitious plan to renovate the site into a business and technology park.

The town organized a weeklong planning session that drew officials, business leaders, planners and residents. From that session, the town created a working plan for Warfield. In 1999, Sykesville annexed the property and has successfully lobbied the state and county for funding. Town officials said they expect to sign the first lease for a Warfield building early next year.

Warfield, a $20 million project with the potential to bring more than 1,000 white-collar jobs to the county, will benefit from the new infrastructure at the training center and a new intersection that will connect the complex to Route 32.

"We can use the learning curve from Warfield on Martin Gross," Herman said.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said the county is "very much interested" in the Martin Gross Complex, with its nearly 175,000 square feet of building space and about 600 feet of frontage on Route 32. The site is also less than 10 miles from Interstate 70.

"It is an opportunity to have another area of the hospital for economic development," Gouge said. "We should look at the whole area, now that the road improvements are going through. Working with the Martin Gross property is just a natural step for us."

Several Martin Gross buildings date to the hospital's founding in 1896, and the state has rated the condition of all of them "poor." The buildings also have asbestos and lead paint issues, but the state originally considered them an ideal site for a public safety training center, until then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening scrapped the project, saying it conflicted with his Smart Growth initiative to direct development to existing communities.

The town helped persuade Glendening to build the center in Warfield's two largest buildings.

Herman, a restoration contractor, called the stately brick buildings in the Martin Gross area "architectural gems." The age and character of the buildings might make them eligible for historic tax credits, he said.

The state Board of Public Works will decide on the disposition of the property.

Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll, said she has urged the state to develop a master plan for the entire hospital campus. Warfield, the training center and now Martin Gross are all great examples of putting surplus property back into use, she said.

"The training center will bring economic development to other areas of the hospital," Krebs said. "We have the infrastructure here now and soon we will have a safe new entrance to get here. This is exactly what should happen. Why should vacant property just sit here?"

The only hurdle could be the sales price, said Matthew Candland, town manager. State officials have said they expect to solicit bids for the purchase of the property and to sell it at fair market value.

Neither the county nor town could afford to buy the property outright, officials said.

With Warfield, the town arranged to repay the state as it leased the buildings to business tenants.

"If the state would defer the purchase until after the county and town have devised a master plan, we would essentially have a turnkey project fully planned and approved," Candland said.

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