Residents urge relocation of proposed Ag hall Center board to weigh recommendation from neighborhood group


A neighborhood group has asked the Agriculture Center board to revise plans for a $2.5 million exhibition hall and construct the facility near existing buildings at its Westminster site.

The 15-member board accepted the recommendation from the Neighborhood Advisory Committee Tuesday for consideration. The board meets monthly but officials couldn't say how long consideration would take.

"It is very good that the committee has devoted time and effort to this recommendation," said Lawrence E. Meeks, board president. "It is a positive step forward. Now the board has something concrete to consider. We will study it and make a decision."

Residents in Winchester Park and Diamond Hills have been critical of plans to build a 41,827-square-foot building on a grassy tract in front of the 13-acre Ag Center property off Smith Avenue in Westminster.

After five meetings with engineers and architects, the nine-member Neighborhood Advisory Committee voted unanimously in favor of a center on the original site and pledged its support should the Ag Center board follow the recommendation.

"The committee is committed to openly support and promote the project and its funding," members wrote in a news release.

Much of the funding is expected to come from private donations. More than $1 million is pledged over the next five years. The state has committed $400,000 in matching grant money, and the county has agreed to include the cost of the entire project in a local bond bill.

"People are really working together on this and getting behind it," said Edmund R. "Ned" Cueman, chairman of the neighborhood committee. "I don't know how the Ag board will react, but I expect them to huddle with their engineers and architects just like the committee did."

The Ag Center board had rejected the first site -- between the Burns Building and the cattle exhibit center -- as too small and more costly to build on.

Construction of the originally proposed 37,500-square-foot building would have involved removing four buildings and relocating underground utility lines. Engineers also expect to encounter rock formations that could add to the construction costs.

"Those concerns don't magically go away, but the primary concern is the location," Cueman said. "If the center just gets back to where it was supposed to go, the other issues can be worked out."

For two years, the new hall has been touted as a multipurpose exhibition center -- to be the largest between Timonium and York, Pa. It would operate year-round as an all-purpose exhibition hall rather than as a farm-centered facility.

Because of controversy over the plans, construction has been delayed until August 1999.

Replacing the old buildings used for the 4-H Fair was the original purpose, not building a $2.5 million county convention center, neighbors argued. The committee recommendation is a compromise, they said.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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