A petition to rezone conservation land for business sailed through the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission yesterday, paving the way for construction of the $3.5 million corporate headquarters for Episcopal Ministries to the Aging.
The seven-member panel voted unanimously in favor of the petition shortly after touring the 4.5-acre site along Route 32, just north of Sykesville.
The property adjoins Fairhaven Retirement Community, a subsidiary of Episcopal Ministries to the Aging (EMA).
"We could not have asked for a better result," said Amber Dahlgreen Curtis, attorney for EMA.
The result was different three months ago, when the organization, faced with strident opposition from residents of Sykesville, had to scrap plans to build the offices on land it owned within the town of 3,500.
The Sykesville Town Council rejected a project set for 3 acres across from the main entrance to Fairhaven on Second Avenue. Only Mayor Jonathan S. Herman voted in favor of the organization he called a good neighbor.
In June, EMA announced it had chosen an alternative site at the southwest corner of Route 32 and Johnsville Road. It purchased the property from a developer and expects to settle on the land tomorrow.
To win the rezoning, the ministries had to establish that a substantial change had taken place in the neighborhood.
Among the changes noted were Sykesville's recent annexation of state-owned property, which it expects to redevelop into a business and office complex; a residential subdivision of 121 homes west of the site; and a strip shopping center on the opposite side of Johnsville Road.
To alter zoning, petitioners must prove a change in the neighborhood or a mistake in the original zoning, which in this case was conservation.
"I support the change in character argument," said Tom Hiltz, planning commissioner. "But, we must fully consider the impact to the neighborhood. This can't be used as a daisy chain to justify future changes."
Although the property will front Route 32, access will be from Johnsville Road, a recommendation of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
"Based on anticipated use, we expect minimal traffic," said Steven C. Horn, county director of planning.
The state criticized the project as inconsistent with Smart Growth, the governor's initiative to control sprawl and direct development to existing communities. State transportation officials also called for study of the impact on Route 32, a two-lane state highway in Carroll County, which becomes four lanes in Howard County.
The county commissioners, who have final authority on rezoning, are expected to act on the proposal within a few weeks. Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who sits on the planning commission as an ex officio member, voted in favor yesterday. With the county commissioners' approval, the project can move through the development review process.
EMA intends to break ground as soon as possible, said Curtis.
The planning commission voted only on the rezoning yesterday and will review a site plan for the 227,000-square-foot office complex later. The design is a series of six connected cottages, none more than two stories high. The buildings will house 40 employees, now working at Fairhaven and Copper Ridge, an EMA facility for the memory impaired.
"We would like to locate all management for EMA in one facility," said Curtis. "Carroll County is our home, and we would like to build here."
Pub Date: 9/22/99