Reveling in voters' overwhelming approval of annexation of the Warfield Complex, Sykesville officials said yesterday the real work of developing the $20 million project can now begin.
Mayor Jonathan Herman said more in-depth planning is needed before restoration can begin on the 15 aging buildings, once part of Springfield Hospital Center on Route 32. Officials are seeking state money to begin what many expect to be a 20-year project.
Until Wednesday's referendum -- which resulted from a petition by residents concerned with the project's cost -- the town had to put its plans and its prospects on hold. Now, with a solid mandate -- nearly 80 percent of those voting favored annexation -- work can proceed.
"That will send a message to prospects and to the state that the town is behind the annexation," Matthew H. Candland, town manager, said of the vote.
Herman, who received congratulations from Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday on the successful referendum, has asked for a meeting with state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials, which will oversee disposition of Warfield.
"We are pleased that the project is going forward," said Tori Leonard, a health department spokeswoman. "We have been working with the town on the issues related to developing the property."
The state has pledged $200,000 for the planning phase of the project, which will pay for an architectural consultant who would draft zoning specific to an employment campus.
The town has also forwarded to the state copies of its economic model -- a business plan expressed in time and dollars detailing the creation of an employment campus at the property along Route 32. Now Sykesville "has to sell this development plan to the state," said Herman.
"It is good for the town that the annexation did so well on the referendum," the mayor said. "That support will make it easier to go through the process with the state."
Glendening's Smart Growth legislation promises funds for development in existing communities such as Sykesville. The town proposal calls for restoring 200,000 square feet of existing space and building 205,000 square feet, including an 80-room hotel. All development will be in partnership with the state.
The referendum on annexation, which was approved by the state Board of Public Works in December 1997, is the culmination of three-years of work for the town of 3,500 residents. Officials organized public hearings and a weeklong planning session to keep residents informed.
"It would be wise to keep the public in the know as the development happens," said Charlie Mullins, a former councilman, who helped organize the petition drive which led to the referendum.
The vote gave the most accurate reading of the prevailing sentiment, said officials. Of the 627 voters, 494 favored annexation.
"The vote shows there is a cohesiveness, an understanding and a willingness to work together," said Herman. "It is also a turning point. People realize they don't want another Eldersburg at their doorstep."
Herman referred to unincorporated Eldersburg, which is often cited as an example of suburban sprawl. Its residents have little say in development and often find themselves battling projects that have county approval.
Proponents of the annexation said the largest turnout in town history gave them a decisive victory.
Local elections traditionally draw few voters. The high turnout and the win by such a wide margin "meant the idea captured the imagination of the people," said Donald R. Jansiewicz, professor of political science at Carroll Community College.
"This was an opportunity for the town to say 'good idea,' and give a real vote of confidence," Jansiewicz said. "The community is basically saying this development makes sense."
In the weeks before the election, officials blanketed households with information about the annexation, labeling the Feb. 17 vote as "Decision Day." Many went door to door to explain the the issue and organized phone trees to get out the vote.
Opponents lacked money and manpower, but spent $200 to mail their newsletters last week, said Mullins.
"We accomplished what we wanted: to let the people decide," he said.
Mullins argued the project would become a financial burden, add more traffic to crowded Route 32 and destroy conservation land.
"Opposition to the referendum forced people to get involved," said Candland. "It seemed the more people learned about the project, the more they liked it."
Mullins said he would bow to the will of the majority, but called Warfield "a scary deal."
"I hope someday we can all be proud of Warfield," he said.
Pub Date: 2/19/99