West side story Baltimore County: Ten years later, UMBC research park is still a good idea.


A RESEARCH PARK at the University of Baltimore County in Catonsville was a good idea 10 years ago, when the university first thought of it. It is still a good idea now that the economic development project finally seems closer to becoming a reality.

The high-paying jobs that the clean, research-related businesses would generate would boost Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's efforts to revive the sagging west side economy.

The park fits in with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "Smart Growth" plan, which encourages commercial growth in urban areas.

The site is zoned for office and technological uses. It would also enhance UMBC's stature as a leader in biotechnology and provide opportunities for UMBC faculty and students.

Last week, a county hearing officer declared a decision on UMBC's development plan a no-brainer. He "easily" approved it.

The project is not out of the woods, however. A small group of area residents has fought it through every step of the process, even after the university voluntarily reduced the size of the park from 96 acres and 12 buildings to 36 acres and four buildings. (Since the state and UMBC established a similar research facility at the nearby 30-acre Lockheed Martin complex, the university decided the park could be scaled down.)

The residents have tried to show that the park would increase traffic and harm wetlands and architectural sites, but it appears that they object mainly because they prefer to live near vacant woods.

That is understandable, but not a valid reason for denying a proposal that complies with development regulations and fits in with the master plan for the area.

As this case moves to the appellate phase, elected leaders and the many community associations that support the park must speak up on its behalf. It would be a shame if this project languishes and dies. The years of delay have already cost the west side jobs, the county tax revenues and the park at least one important tenant.

This research park is the right kind of development in the right place. The wait has been years too long already.

Pub Date: 2/10/97

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