Sykesville residents voted in unprecedented numbers yesterday, approving nearly 5 to 1 the annexation of the Warfield Complex, 15 buildings on 138 acres along Route 32.
With annexation, Sykesville would have the authority to plan and zone development on the state-owned property, once part of Springfield Hospital Center.
The turnout is believed to be the largest in town history.
In 1997, when Sykesville chose a mayor and two council members, 85 voters decided the outcome. Last night, 627 of the 1,815 registered voters went to the polls. The tally was 494 in favor and 132 opposed with one undecided. Five absentee ballots were cast.
"It is a good plan, and the people of Sykesville recognize that," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "I'm pleased. Now the work begins. It's one thing to have a good plan, and another to implement it. This is a task we'll be working on for the next several years."
Opponents of the annexation collected nearly 500 signatures and forced the issue to referendum. Officials used the time before the vote to educate residents on the advantages of annexation.
"I have to thank our opponents," said Councilman Michael Kasnia. "We never would have had this mandate without the controversy behind it."
Once the state Board of Public Works approved the town's proposal for developing the property, Sykesville organized a weeklong planning session at Warfield last year and developed a plan to create an employment campus in the retored buildings.
The council approved the annexation in September. The petition drive and the referendum spawned fierce campaigning from both sides.
The town held a public hearing last month that drew nearly 200 people. Officials mailed newsletters and packets of information to every household. Opponents also mailed letters.
The Warfield property is critical to economic development in the town of 3,500 residents, officials say. Although it has no firm commitments for space, the town has interested two colleges and several developers in the buildings. To shelter local taxpayers from any financial risk, the town would create an independent development authority to handle all investments and expenditures.
Opponents argued that a $20 million venture, which could take about 20 years to complete, was too risky an endeavor for a municipality with a $1.2 million budget.
Without a mandate, Councilman Michael Burgoyne worried how much money the state would commit to the reconstruction effort.
Said Burgoyne: "This mandate puts a lot more backbone into what we do from now on. We know the residents support us."
Pub Date: 2/18/99