For three years, Sykesville has worked to bring the Warfield Complex, a 131-acre property along Route 32, into town limits and create a business and employment campus.
Whether the town moves forward with its sweeping vision hinges on the will of its 3,500 residents. A referendum on the annexation is set for Feb. 17.
Annexation of the former state hospital land and 15 aging buildings would give town taxpayers control over development at their borders and cost them nothing, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.
"This is a way to control the town's destiny through solid planning and zoning," Herman said.
Officials have scheduled a public hearing tomorrow in hopes of answering questions and quelling fears among residents who petitioned the annexation to referendum.
"I hope we can educate the public clearly about where we have been with this project and where we hope to go," said Herman. "If people understand the facts and recognize that the town has insulated itself from any liability, I think they will be in favor."
The opposition comes from those who fear change, said the mayor. More than a decade ago, some residents opposed the town's plan to buy and restore a train station on Main Street. They called the station project a risk of taxpayer money.
"For every step the town makes toward progress, it seems the same people object," said Lloyd R. Helt, a former three-term mayor who maintains a law practice in town. "But you have to trust in the good sense of the people of Sykesville. They always come through."
The proposal "to save a remarkable building" also went to referendum and won by a 3-1 margin, said Helt, referring to the train station.
The town used several grants to renovate the building and leased it as a restaurant. Now it is Baldwin's Station & Pub, the linchpin of Main Street revitalization and an award-winning restaurant that generates an annual income of $10,000 for the town.
"Baldwin's is a great drawing card for downtown," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager. "It was a project that the previous Town Council stuck with, and today we are realizing the benefit."
The town could realize benefits on a larger scale by going forward with the Warfield project, Helt said.
"Citizens have to decide whether they want to control what happens in their town," Helt said. "This is a win-win situation for Sykesville and the surrounding area."
The town has mailed brochures and fliers detailing the advantages of annexation. Town trash haulers on last week's rounds hung 1,200 fliers on doorknobs.
"The main question we are hearing is, 'Why annex?' " said Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols. "The answer is: no annexation, no control. If people care about what is across the street from this town, they should vote to annex."
Nichols and other council members have gone door-to-door to explain the annexation.
"We want to make sure we have a personal connection with people who have questions," said Nichols. "And, we want them to vote."
The town's reputation for solid planning and sound budgeting -- taxes have decreased steadily in the past five years -- weigh in its favor, Nichols said.
Sykesville's Small Town Planning Guidelines, enacted seven years ago, have steered it through the largest growth spurt in its almost 100-year history.
Town officials proposes developing and marketing the complex in partnership with the state, which approved the concept and offered to deed Warfield to Sykesville in December 1997.
The town and state would share the profits from development projects that could include an 80-room hotel, two college campuses, a technology center and professional offices.
In the past year, town officials organized several public hearings and a weeklong planning session. With design and architectural consultants, the town created an economic model for Warfield and has letters of interest for more than 60 percent of the space. Several of those potential users will make presentations at the hearing.
The plan said Carroll County would reap $450,000 in property taxes annually, with the state getting $1.4 million and the town $135,000 -- almost 10 percent of its annual budget.
"Those are conservative estimates," said Candland. "We have not included proceeds from leases and sales."
The hearing is at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the cafeteria at Sykesville Middle School, 7301 Springfield Ave. Information: 410-795-6390.
Pub Date: 1/24/99