Mayor Stacy Link Explains the Situation at Warfield
Things are happening (or potentially happening) over at the Warfield Complex in Sykesville. In the most recent town newsletter, Mayor Link explained it all to some extent, and on Tuesday, May 3 at 7p.m., there will be a public hearing on the matter at Sykesville Middle School.
Here's a brief interview with the mayor that will hopefully clarify things to some extent. If you want to read more about Warfield, go here. (This is a new website called Sykesville Stories that we're launching just a bit prematurely so that we can provide some input on this Warfield matter.)
The immediate issue at hand is that the developers who own the land and buildings at Warfield are asking for a zoning change so that they can build more houses over there.
Interview by Jack White
Hi Stacy. So from what you wrote in the newsletter, it sounds like there's something called a Planned Employment Center (PEC) zoning district, which to me seems like it should apply to an employment center and have nothing to do with residential development. Why would there be houses in an employment center?
That's exactly why the developers have submitted a petition for a text amendment to the PEC zoning district, because the current zoning allows for two residential units per acre (180 on their property). The currently approved site plan includes 145 townhouses, most of which are already built, or will be completed in the next couple of months.
But now they want more [houses].
If they get the changes they want, will Warfield become all housing?
It will become a lot more housing for sure. As per their requested dramatic increase in residential land use percentage and dramatic reduction in commercial land use percentage, combined with the insertion of "Retirement homes and senior housing facilities including independent living, whether stand-alone or within a continuing care retirement community,” as a non-residential use, if approved, the up-zoning would allow for them to build no new commercial, and in fact turn the historic buildings into 100% residential -- and not just the vacant historic buildings.
It would also allow for the three rehabilitated buildings, currently being used for commercial, to be converted to residential use.
In December, the State awarded the developer with $15M in tax credits for the stabilization and rehabilitation of the historic buildings. Unfortunately, the developer's focus has been this up-zoning and not the unrelated stabilization of the buildings.
Are you saying they won’t develop the old buildings (and obviously haven't) unless they get the up-zoning request approved so they can make the buildings 90% affordable residential apartments? Those buildings were beautiful. They’re historic. But they’re starting to crumble.
The vacant historic buildings are still filled with environmental hazardous material, including asbestos and failed lead paint. The windows have never been secured/ protected from vandalism, and some of the buildings continue to get wet because their roofs are still leaking.
There's also a lot of broken windows. I thought that the primary appeal of the Warfield site was to preserve those buildings and do something interesting with them that would benefit all of us in various ways. And where's the employment center? Wasn’t there supposed to be an employment center so that residents could work in Sykesville instead of commuting everywhere else?
There would be no employment center if they get their petition approved. Their request literally changes the spirit of the existing PEC Zoning ordinance to allow all housing and no employment center.
At a recent Sykesville Planning Commission (PC) meeting, the planning commissioners pointed out to the developers that if they were to vote that evening, they'd not be able to recommend to the mayor and town council to approve their request as written, and the PC made it clear to the developers that their [the developer's] current request is just too far of a stretch from the current zoning text. Accordingly, the petitioners agreed to come back with a new plan, in effect, to go back to the drawing board.
But the developers did not produce any amendments to their petition, and in fact they did not show at the PC meeting following their announced plans to provide revisions, despite their being on the PC meeting agenda. The planning commission, having announced at the previous meeting that if they were to vote that evening, it'd be a "no," and having received no further information from the petitioners, opted to vote at the April PC meeting, to recommend to the mayor and town council to deny the petition based upon its inconsistencies with the existing PEC Zoning text and the Town's 2030 Comprehensive Plan.
What happened to the idea of a cultural center? I really liked the sound of that. There’s a huge, beautiful building over there with two immense floors of space. It has a stage. It's a former movie theater and acting and concert venue. Sykesville kids used to graduate from high school over there. Nurses got their degrees on that stage. There were concerts in there and dances. It was a big community center, in a sense. It would make a fantastic entertainment venue. There’s all kinds of great potential in that one building alone.
The developers changed that concept just prior to their purchase of the property from the Town. That's when the developers changed the large brick sign out on 32 at the entrance to the complex.
So the developers decided we would no longer have a cultural center. That’s very disappointing. I’m surprised they had the power to do that.
Now, when you refer to units in your newsletter article, what do you mean?
Residential units -- that can be condos, townhouses, apartment units (no matter how many bedrooms, each domicile is a unit).
And did you say there’s a potential for 742 more units?
Yes, if approved, the up-zoning request would allow for 742 total residential units, to include the existing 145 town homes at Warfield. Between the undeveloped acreage at Warfield and the adjacent property of 24 acres (which has in just the last week been sold to Elm Street Communities, the same residential developer who purchased the residential parcels from Warfield Companies, LLC back in 2018, and has built/is building the 145 town homes at Warfield).
And they're making this request to change the zoning because that’s what they want to install in there? Basically a whole bunch of housing units of various types.
Yes, because currently, they can only build ~35 more at Warfield to stay within current residential density in that zone. They agreed to infill the remaining vacant parcels with commercial new construction when they purchased the property.
But any change to the PEC Zone affects the entire zone: their property (Warfield) and the property next to it. So even though they are asking for the increased density for their purpose on the Warfield property, a change to the density affects the entire zone (both properties).
So, where a home builder could only build 2 residential units x 23.7 acres on the newly purchased adjacent property within the current zoning text, an approved Warfield submitted change (6.5 units per acre) would increase the neighboring property's potential of 47 town homes to 154.
Okay, so there's a second property. This is kind of a tricky thing, and I want to clarify. The Fairhaven retirement community (owned by Acts Life Communities) is actually not within the borders of Sykesville, but Acts Life Communities owned about 24 acres of land that is within Sykesville's borders, and they just sold that land to someone who is going to build houses on it.
So, we’re talking about two different plots of land and two different developments. One development is in Warfield, and one is on the same side of 32 right beside Warfield. And both properties have the same zoning. So if the zoning changes for one, it also changes for the other. This second property is just under 24 acres and currently zoned for two units per acre. That comes to 47 new houses. But if the zoning changes, they could do 6.5 units per acre and potentially build 154 new homes.
What kind of houses are they going to build?
I can't speak to any concept plan for the ~24 acre parcel adjacent to Warfield [the Fairhaven land]. But at Warfield, their concept plan includes 177 Workforce housing apartments in the Historic Buildings, with additions connecting all of the buildings in the quad, 4-story high townhouse looking buildings that would hold 2 condos in each and the rest town homes.
So they're going to fill the historic buildings with dwellings and connect them together with more dwellings, plus build a bunch of townhouses. Where's the room for the townhouses?
Good question. According to the Warfield developer's concept plans, all new residential construction would occur on the four undeveloped parcels fronting 32, abutting the Northrup Grumman property, which totals just over 15 acres. Except for the ~26 acre Carrie Dorsey Park, which is zoned conservation, the remaining undeveloped parcels would be used for storm water management and roads.
How do they work around the historic buildings?
Any/all new construction requires approval including any modifications to the historic buildings.
I think that anyone who is interested in Warfield at all is interested in it because they thought it would be something exciting and different. Not more houses. It sounds like a potential population increase of about 48% and a lot more cars pouring out of Warfield onto 32. How does any of this add up to improving the quality of life for the people who live in Sykesville? We won't even be able to walk around over there and look at the nice buildings, because it will be a neighborhood. It will be private property. It will basically be closed off from the town and not really part of the town.
Preserving the buildings wasn't supposed to be about putting people in there. It was supposed to be about providing something interesting for the people who are already here. Right? I really don't think people are going to like this idea.
Then hundreds of people need to come out to the public hearing being held at Sykesville Middle School's cafeteria on Tuesday, May 3rd at 7PM, so that the Town Council's decision is informed by the people of Sykesville and South Carroll. People need to know what’s going on and how it affects them, and they need to let us know how they feel.
I'm counting on the people to make it obvious that we’re representing the public's best interest and a sustained good quality of life for Sykesville. There is a lot of promise here for reuse of the historic buildings, and we don’t want to throw it away. I want to move forward with what is best for Sykesville.
Sykesville is a nice place because we're more than a bunch of strip malls and houses, and we do have quite a bit of what you might call quirky charm. We've also got a very interesting story to tell. We've got an actual history, and those buildings over at Warfield are a big part of it.
I'm sure a bunch of houses will bring new people into town, but it won't do anything to make the town more interesting or livable. Most people who live here probably don't think much about Warfield. And it seems that adding those 145 town homes hasn't had a terrible effect, but at what point do we hit the limit? Once cars start pouring in and out of there, I think people will start thinking about it a lot.
The traffic is one of my greatest concerns with respect to quality of life, not to mention the lost opportunity to do this the right way. And there's our already overcrowded schools -- which has called up the need for a County appointed redistricting committee absent this suggested high-density development. The Town Council and I are anxious for the public to have its opportunity for all thoughtful concerns to be heard by the decision makers.
It's all very disappointing. It seems the entire promise of Warfield is slowly dying, and that after all these years, we'll end up with nothing except more cars, more people, more congestion, and nothing at all of value or interest.
The Town Council and I are anxious for the public to have its opportunity for all thoughtful concerns to be heard by the decision makers at the public hearing on Tuesday, May 3rd at 7PM at Sykesville Middle School.
It's been about a year now, that I began hearing Warfield development related concerns from Sykesville residents. I am a resident of Sykesville first. I am not going anywhere. I plan to haunt my house. I know this sounds cliche, but I freaking love this town. I love it for what it is and for what it has become. And I know how it happened. It didn't happen because of Sykesville's 1990s "housing boom," as the developers would love for all of us to believe.
Sykesville has become a destination for business owners, patrons and tourists and a safe and wonderful place to call home because of the strategic financial and sweat equity investment in our downtown, that began in 1968 with the thoughtful leadership and example of people like Councilwoman Thelma Wimmer, whose tireless work to promote the concept of historic preservation ultimately led to the saving of what would become our beloved 1880s Town House.
She, along with Mayor Jonathan Herman, saw our historic district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1990s. The revitalization of our downtown was ignited in the last ten years first by Sykesville Main Street Association's Main Street Maryland Communities designation in 2012 and then propelled forward by the deliberate actions of the Downtown Sykesville Connection and its volunteers, which includes a commitment to revitalization, which has helped them to increase private-sector small business investment, and improve the appearance and image of our core business district.
And it is what Sykesville can be that we -- the people of Sykesville -- now have control over. I'll be damned if any action on my part will serve to undermine the opportunity that is Warfield at Historic Sykesville.
To visit the new Sykesville Stories website, go here. The first volume of Sykesville Stories the book will be available in mid-May. The website is intended for viewing on a computer or tablet in a browser. The phone version isn't ready.