UMBC plan for expansion is criticized


Confronted with University of Maryland Baltimore County's plans to expand as a research and development facility, Catonsville-area residents offered mixed reviews last night about whether the school's growth should extend into their back yards.

"I'm against the plan as it is proposed," said Phylene Raven, one of about 150 residents who gathered at Our Lady of Victory Church on Wilkens Avenue to learn more about the project from university officials.

"We need research and development, but we don't need to tear up a conservation area just because we have some free land there," she said, echoing the majority sentiment that UMBC should not build a 95-acre research park on the campus' southwestern side.

The Southwest Community association opposed the plan, expressing concerns about increased traffic, pollution, funding, zoning and the impact on the environment. The association cited the returns of a poll in which 1,875 residents were against the plan.

But others applauded the research and development plan, which would feature a Westinghouse Electric Corp. automation and manufacturing facility.

The university hopes to enhance its status as a public research center by providing $80 million in laboratory space for local industries to develop new technology, such as robotics, that may revitalize the U.S. economy. It hopes to get state loans and grants to pay for the park.

In an effort to persuade the group, UMBC President Michael K. Hooker displayed a segment of a "60 Minutes" news program that warned of the growing U.S. dependency on foreign technology.

"This is not something we developed to make money or because we have excess land and we don't know what to do with it. The university has to grow to accommodate the expanded needs of the state economy," Mr. Hooker said.

"There's no question whether UMBC will grow," he said. "The question is whether we'll cap enrollment and grow as a research facility and accommodate economic growth or increase our student body, which will have a greater impact on the community."

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