Linwood residents protest training center project

Disruption of farming lifestyle is a main concern

May 13, 2007|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Sun Reporter

Linwood area residents are unhappy after a meeting with county officials and members of the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association where they learned that a new emergency services training center will go near the historic village.

Last month, county commissioners approved the 40-acre site on McKinstry's Mill Road, a gift from Lehigh Cement Company, for the training center even though residents have repeatedly said they don't want the facility.

The center would be about a half mile south of the 19th-century Victorian farming hamlet that lies between New Windsor and Union Bridge.

The meeting Tuesday night at the Union Bridge Community Center was meant to explain to residents the process for developing the center and describe its use, as well as solicit ideas for making it "compatible with the community," said Scott Campbell, administrator of the Office of Public Safety Support Services.

But mostly, the estimated 50 residents reiterated their reasons for being against the center and expressed dismay over how the decision was made.

"We were promised there would be meetings before a decision was made," said Stephen H. Kerkam, vice chairman of the Historic Linwood Preservation Committee.

Concerns for the community's historic buildings and rural farming lifestyle were pointed out several times by residents, who insisted, "Nobody wants it [the training center]."

"It doesn't belong in the middle of a farming community," said Judy Smith, a resident. "The two are incompatible."

County officials who described the process of required environmental, soil, water and septic studies, said that if any of those tests failed, the center would not go in Linwood.

"An environmental study will look at the site to see if there is anything we have to be aware of before we start," said Tom Rio, county bureau chief of building construction whose office will manage the project for the center. "And then we have to see if what we will do will harm the site."

A soil exploration will help the county determine whether there are any sink holes in the area.

The site has to be able to support a well and septic system to meet the center's needs, Rio said.

Assuming the site passes all the tests, a designer has to be hired to create a plan, which then has to go through all the county's planning and zoning processes, including the subdivision advisory committee and planning commission.

Rio said the site plan would take about a year to complete, "two years before we put a shovel in the ground and three years before any buildings are used."

Richard Green Sr., president of the association, described how and when the center would be used.

The current center, on about nine acres on Kate Wagner Road, has five buildings/prop areas, including an indoor breathing apparatus maze and a 4-story tower.

The center's primary function is an educational facility, and 90 percent of the usage is for classroom work, Green said. Last year, the center used 2,391 hours of classroom instruction and 281 hours for props.

Green said about 35 groups and programs - from the association to county and state police agencies, amateur radio clubs, surrounding jurisdictions' fire and police, and the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute - use the center.

Classes are held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Hands-on training with large equipment would be held perhaps five times during a class, Green said.

The association has agreed to take heavy apparatus to the site via Shepherd's Mill, Quaker Hill and Priestland roads, an extra 2- to 3-mile route, instead of McKinstry's Mill Road through the village, Green said.

The heavy usage of classrooms had Kerkam wondering why area schools could not be used for classes and the current training center's props renovated, saving the county and taxpayers money. The county has budgeted $7 million for the new training center.

Dennis Brothers, the association's treasurer and Baltimore County Fire Department's fire and rescue academy captain, said using school classrooms is not feasible because of the amount of equipment needed for fire and Emergency Medical Services training.

Residents expressed concern about misuse of the area by other agencies using the facility.

Campbell said residents could call him if any problems occurred.

Others expressed concern about the narrow hilly McKinstry's Mill Road and increased traffic.

Mike Evans, county director of public works, said traffic safety and concerns would be addressed during the planning and review process.

Concerned about the center fitting into the community, one resident asked if the buildings could be made to blend in with the village architecturally.

Rio told him, "It can certainly be built like that."

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich urged the community to give the project a chance.

"I'd like to see the community work with the firefighters," Minnich said. "The firefighters work together as one and they get things done in a positive way. I have faith they will work with the community to be good neighbors."

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