UMBC biotech center loan clears hurdle


The University of Maryland Baltimore County came a step closer to building a biotechnology research park yesterday when the state gave preliminary approval for a $1.45 million economic development loan.

The Maryland Economic Development Corp., a state-chartered company that helps finance development projects, agreed to lend the money to UMBC to begin building roads, sewers and a water system. The university must get approval from the state Board of Public Works before it can receive the loan.

MEDCO agreed to the loan despite strong opposition by area residents who told it yesterday of their concern that the research park would create more traffic, waste tax dollars and endanger public health. They argued that genetically engineered organisms might escape from the laboratory and infect the community.

In an effort to allay those fears, MEDCO is requiring any company that builds at the research park to follow the National Institutes of Health's strict guidelines for biotechnology research.

"I am disappointed the MEDCO board didn't take citizens' efforts and requests under more consideration," said Kathy Valderas, chairwoman of a coalition of residents opposed to the research park. "We, as taxpayers, should have a voice in how our tax dollars are used and control over what projects are funded."

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden already has committed the county to a $450,000 grant on top of the MEDCO money.

The park, which is expected to generate $1 million to $2 million annually in tax revenues and have 1,400 employees within about a decade, will be on 36 acres next to the Catonsville campus. The loan would be repaid through rent on the property.

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