Sykesville reviews plan for South Branch Park

SYKESVILLE - The town of Sykesville is once again considering changes to the South Branch Park master plan.
The Town Council reviewed the adjusted plan at its Sept. 9 meeting, in which Mayor Ian Shaw and Council President Frank Robert Jr. were both absent.
Much of the discussion about the park, a joint project between the town and Howard County, stemmed about the recently identified flood plain that prevents officials from erecting vertical structures that could be washed away during times of heavy flooding.
The master plan, which the Town Council approved with the understanding that changes could be made, scrapped plans for a gazebo due to the flood plain. Ivy Wells, director of economic development, said the town also no longer plans to move in a train car from the B&O Museum, which was an uncertain initiative anyway, she said.
With those two projects abandoned, the town can funnel that money into other elements of the park, particularly the playground, which sits outside the flood plain.
The park, located off West Friendship Road, is funded in part by a state grant of $256,000 awarded by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 2011, with Sykesville supplementing an additional $13,000, according to Wells. Howard County Parks and Recreation has also allotted $300,000 this year for future maintenance and development.
Another point of contention was an open area deemed a skate park, which was previously labeled a multipurpose area. During the public participation portion of the meeting, one audience member voiced concerns that if the plan was finalized by the council, then no discussion could be had on the purpose of the area.
Council members said that because the master plan at this point is only a concept, future dialogue would need to be had to determine a final solution.
Wells said that she is an advocate of instituting a skate park, and said Shaw has been in discussion with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman about allocating funding for the park. However, the town wants to focus on using the grant money first, which is not applied to the area in question.
"It was always supposed to be a multipurpose area," Wells said. "But when people started skating over there ... with the attention that it got, it kind of grew into its own skate park."
Other changes include an increase in area parking - the number of spaces planned for the park has been more than doubled, and portable restroom units have been added to the area which is currently the site of an aging apple warehouse.
Two stages are planned to sit adjacent to either side of the apple warehouse. One of the stages, however, is also identified as a possible shelter.
Wells said outside the grant money, she hopes to revitalize the warehouse to be a space for events.
"I would like to get that building in useable condition," she said. "A lot of work needs to be done on the inside."

It was also announced that two officials would be stepping down from their positions.
Sykesville Police Chief John Williams will retire Oct. 1. Williams was not present at the meeting, instead Town Manager Dawn Ashbacher made the announcement.
"He has been a tremendous gift, an asset to the town," Ashbacher said after the meeting. "It's a big, huge loss for the town - it's big shoes to fill."
Formalities will occur later, according to Ashbacher, who said the resignation was sudden.
Councilwoman Deb Ellis, in an announcement not on the agenda, stated she will resign from the council effective Sept. 28.
Ellis, who is employed with the Social Security Administration, is relocating to the San Francisco area to work in one of its 10 regional offices. She will oversee over 1,000 employees in her new position, she said. Ellis' first term was 12 years long, while she has served in her current tenure since May.
"I'm much happier with this council," Ellis said. "It really seems to be not concerned about dollars and budget, but it really seems to be concerned about the quality of life and how the town is moving forward."
Councilman Al Grasley said he was sorry to see Ellis depart. "We'll be losing a lot of history," he said.
The town has up to 60 days to fill the position. Letters of interest must be submitted to the town by Sept. 30. A resume is preferred, but not required. The position is temporary until the next general election - the current council and other town officials will conduct interviews.

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