Sykesville's plans to annex the Warfield Complex and turn its 15 aging buildings into a business center drew more than 150 residents to a public hearing last night.
Officials in the town that straddles the Carroll-Howard border would like to incorporate the 131-acre property, once part of Springfield Hospital Center, to spur economic development. They envision a business and employment campus. Two colleges and several businesses are interested in the space.
"The two main reasons to annex this property are income and control," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "This is a prime piece of real estate on Route 32, and it has substantial buildings."
Consultants and several potential tenants attended the hearing, hoping to convince residents of the advantages they could bring to the town of 3,500.
Many residents listened to what town officials had to say and left before public comment began.
"The biggest thing this plan will do is protect the growth of Sykesville," said resident Rob Freeman. "People can't come along and build anything they want."
The town received endorsements for the annexation from the state, the county, and the hospital administration. The annexation will go to referendum Feb. 17.
If Warfield becomes part of the town, Sykesville will have zoning and planning control over what happens on the property. The town has proposed a partnership with the state for developing Warfield and sharing profits from the leases.
"State funds won't come to Warfield unless it is annexed and part of an existing community. This project can be a model for Smart Growth," Herman said, referring to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's initiative to curb sprawl by providing state aid for development in and around existing communities.
The governor asked his staff last week to find another site for a $53 million police training center, formerly slated to be developed on a neighboring site, because he said it didn't comply with Smart Growth. However, the mayor said he had assurances from Glendening that the state will support the Warfield Complex's development with publicity, approvals and aid.
Herman stressed the view that annexation would not be a speculative venture for the town, and said he plans to call for creating a separate development authority. "The groundwork is done. The buildings are there. They're empty and this is a perfect opportunity for us to seize the moment," he said.
Although town officials have said Sykesville will have no financial liability, some residents predict higher property taxes to maintain the buildings and to fund restoration.
"We don't want letters of intent. We need letters of commitment and earnest money," said Charlie Mullins, a former councilman. "This is a fantasy world. Interest in a property does not pay the piper. We have to get them under contract."
Mullins said that without financial commitments, Warfield should remain conservation land, open space that residents could use for recreation. He said he fears rezoning the property for business would further congest an already crowded Route 32.
Pub Date: 1/26/99