Getting UMBC plan back on track


If any development proposal appeared to be a sure thing, it was the University of Maryland Baltimore County's plan to build a research park on the school's Catonsville campus.

Government and community officials alike have touted the project as a source of good jobs and tax revenues for the county. They also have claimed it would enhance UMBC's reputation among professors and students of the sciences. When a county zoning commissioner endorsed the proposal last May, he did so with unusual gusto. "It is abundantly clear that this development plan should be approved," he wrote. He even tossed some jibes at the "mistrust and misunderstanding" of the local residents who have fought the proposal for six years.

After the May ruling, the residents said they would take their fight to the county Board of Appeals. Yet UMBC officials were so confident that the appeal would fail, they talked of starting construction while the board pondered the matter.

Well, hold those bulldozers.

zTC The board has denied the university's request for a seemingly simple zoning variance -- an action that essentially has brought the whole project to a halt. Even the lawyer for the opponents of the park said even they were "shocked" by the board's finding. Odds are they weren't the only ones.

Officials of UMBC and the county government must nonetheless take immediate steps to get the proposal back on track. As they have suggested, this is precisely the kind of project that the county, the region and the state need to cultivate as the biotech industry expands. Indeed, with its well-educated populace, its access to major transportation networks and its generally high quality of life, the Baltimore region is a natural fit for such an undertaking.

Bringing the idea quickly to fruition is made even more urgent by additional factors. For one, recent military downsizing has cost the region and the state thousands of positions -- many of them good-paying, high-tech jobs -- at Martin Marietta, Westinghouse, AAI Corp. and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The UMBC research park can return some of those jobs.

Also, there's no telling how long the first expected tenant of the park, Atlantic Pharmaceutical Services, will patiently wait if the project is not approved in the near future. It will be a tougher sell to other companies, too, as long as it remains bogged down by neighborhood opposition. The UMBC research park must go forward, and soon.

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