National expert to discuss land use at a public hearing in Sykesville


Hoping to involve residents in a comprehensive plan to guide growth in Sykesville, town officials have invited a national expert in land use and preservation to lead a public hearing tonight.

Ed McMahon, director of land-use programs for the Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., will speak on preserving community character at 7 p.m. in the Sykesville Middle School cafeteria.

"I will show the relationship between conservation and economic development," McMahon said. "You can have growth without destroying the things people love."

The town's master plan dates to 1988 and should have been revised at least four years ago as required by state law. Carroll County's eight towns ordinarily rely on the county planning department for help, but the county has been overwhelmed with its master plan effort and unable to spare time and personnel to assist Sykesville.

"The county has so many pressing needs of its own. We are going to try and take care of our own," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "McMahon really inspired and encouraged me. He shows how to get developers to tailor development to fit a community."

Town officials heard McMahon's address at the Maryland Municipal League convention last summer and invited him to Sykesville. McMahon's $1,000 speaker's fee is a bit pricey for the town but the talk should be worthwhile, said Matthew H. Candland, town manager.

"We think we have one of the best and brightest to inform the Town Council and the residents about issues which affect us," said Candland.

McMahon urges towns like Sykesville to plan around local assets such as its riverfront, railroad and century-old storefronts. He will give a slide show depicting how other Maryland towns have revived their downtown areas.

"The choice is not between growth and preservation," he said. "You can have it all. Existing buildings can be attractive, efficient and profitable."

Sykesville has been diligent about preservation, urging homeowners and businesses to restore rather than to build.

"I feel that Sykesville is going in the right direction," said Herman. "We can fit development into vernacular architecture. You can make development do what you want."

The town planning commission is interviewing planning consultants to help write the master plan, Candland said. Costs range from $25,000 to $40,000, depending on how thorough the plan needs to be.

"The new plan would incorporate what is done on Main Street and what remains to be done and also Warfield," said Candland.

The town annexed the 138-acre Warfield Complex, once part of the state's Springfield Hospital Center, nearly two years ago. It expects to restore the 14 century-old buildings and create an office and small business campus on the property.

Engineers from the State Highway Administration also will be at the meeting to discuss improvements to Main Street, which is a state road. The mayor has appointed 14 residents to work with the state, which might turn ownership of the road over to the town.

At 6 p.m. tomorrow, Sykesville celebrates a new centerpiece for downtown with the dedication of its Old Main Line Visitors Center on Oklahoma Road. The town spent nearly $200,000 restoring the building, a one-time railroad switching tower.

The center will welcome tourists, display town memorabilia and offer meeting space for local groups. It also might house a satellite post office, if the town succeeds in its negotiations with postal officials.

Information: 410-795-6390.

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