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Sykesville residents warned of effect of not annexing Warfield Complex; Town would lose control of development, mayor says


While many Sykesville residents are concerned with the costs of annexing and renovating Warfield Complex at Springfield Hospital Center, more worry about what will happen if the property is not incorporated.

Annexing the 138-acre property with 15 historic buildings would give the town control over development and a source of income from the businesses that locate on the property, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.

"No one will look out for the town more so than we who live here," he said.

Residents will decide whether they want control at a Feb. 17 referendum on the annexation.

"If we don't vote for this, we could see these buildings leveled and 130 acres of cinder blocks," said Michael Willinger, town resident, at a public hearing on the annexation that drew more than 150 residents Monday. "This town has good zoning and planning."

Since a petition drive forced the issue to a vote, officials have launched an information campaign with several mailings and the hearing at Sykesville Middle School.

"If you miss this opportunity to annex, I predict there will be many meetings like this to fight what is being done, instead of meetings to plan what is being done," said Councilman Michael Burgoyne.

The state declared Warfield a surplus property and approved the town's annexation plan a year ago. If voters reject the proposal, the state would market the site and the town would have no say in what would happen at its borders.

"You are not looking at an either-or situation," said James R. Gatto, regional development officer with the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "Without annexation, development would occur under the private sector. You have an opportunity to control growth and the mix of opportunities consistent with the governor's Smart Growth."

Gatto referred to the 1997 initiative to curb sprawl and provide state resources for development in existing communities, such as Sykesville. Once Warfield is annexed, it would qualify for state funding, Gatto said.

Many at the hearing were concerned about the town's financial responsibility for a costly, long-term project. The mayor assured the audience that the town would have no financial liability but would act as a conduit for a separate development authority, established for Warfield.

"We developed the authority concept so there would be no burden on taxpayers," Herman said.

An economic model -- a business plan expressed in time and dollars -- details the costs of restoring the Warfield buildings, the potential revenue from a state and town partnership and the workings of the development authority.

"The authority, made of members appointed by the town, would be the sole entity responsible for revenue and expenditures," said Frederick W. Glassberg, a Columbia-based consultant. "The authority would borrow money and sell bonds to fund itself."

The state is expected to help with the cost of the project's start-up, asbestos abatement and maintenance, until the authority takes over, Glassberg said.

Residents also asked for solid commitments and deposits from those interested in leasing space. Until the town officially annexes Warfield, commitments will remain elusive, Glassberg said.

"We have had general discussions with users for almost all the space," he said.

The model predicts the first tenants could move into a restored building by June 2000. Initial new construction could be completed about a year later. An 80-room hotel could open in 2003.

Glassberg offered what he called conservative estimates on the financial benefits. The county would reap $450,000 in property taxes annually, with the state getting $1.4 million and the town $135,000 -- nearly 10 percent of its annual budget. Revenue from income taxes would be about $1.4 million for the state and about $700,000 for the county. By 2006, Sykesville could reap an annual profit of $250,000.

"It all boils down to cost," said Charlie Mullins, a former councilman opposed to the annexation. "The town has never been involved in an annexation that cost us money. The government should not be in the investment business."

The town of 3,500 has grown by 500 houses in this decade and is nearly at build-out. Impact fees, assessed on new homes, helped pay the costs of new infrastructure, but the town will need additional revenues to maintain those roads and utilities and to provide services. Development of a solid industrial base at Warfield could provide that revenue, the mayor said.

"We have to ensure the well-being of the town's economic future," Herman said. "Warfield could be a significant revenue source."

If the annexation passes, said Al Howes, owner of a Main Street business, he would like to see meetings held to coincide with the various stages of development at Warfield.

"This hearing cleared up a lot of things for me, especially about financing," Howes said.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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