What's to become of Sykesville's Warfield Complex?
It was once considered a key to Sykesville's future prosperity. Will it become nothing more than another collection of houses that no one here wants?
Will it be more Eldersburg or more Sykesville? And how did we get to this point?
Stay tuned as we find out.
About this Story
This story is alive. By that I mean we'll be updating it frequently, so what you read today might not be there tomorrow, or it might be, but slightly different, as facts come in and we make updates.
If you would like to read in interview with the mayor on zoning issues surrounding the complex click here.
The Big Deal
One thing that's important to know about Warfield is that although the complex is part of the town of Sykesville, Sykesville no longer owns the land or most of the buildings.
Here's an article in the Baltimore Sun that explains the deal that created this situation. The deal closed on June 26, 2018. Here's another take in the Baltimore Business Journal published July 6, 2018.
The deal took place between the town and an entity called The Warfield Collaborative 18 years after the town took over the property.
Jonathan Herman was mayor when the whole thing began. Then came Mike Miller, and then Ian Shaw, who was mayor when they finally closed the deal.
The Sun quotes Mayor Shaw on the closing of the deal.
“This has really been a public-private partnership with the Warfield Collaborative, and we are looking forward to the success of the site and bringing both their vision and our vision to life: for a mixed-use project that really will benefit not just Sykesville, but all of Carroll County and get these buildings back to life, as well as new modern additions to the town.”
Part of the deal involved townhouses. You've seen them. There will be about 145, most of which are finished, creating a whole new large community.
Again in the Sun, Mayor Shaw says, “We’ve been a bedroom community, really . . . Everyone leaves here to go to work. We are trying to change that now so that people don’t have to leave to go to work.
"That’s really been the new vision of Warfield: to bring the jobs so people can live, work and play in one place.”
The Situation Now
If things continue to go as they seem to be going, it's not likely the former mayor's vision will ever become reality.
The current mayor is Stacy Link. She's the first woman to ever hold the position. In a recent town newsletter she described the current situation. (Read our interview with the mayor.)
Apparently, the entity the town is now dealing with is known as Warfield Companies, LLC. The complex falls under some weird zoning designation, and Warfield Companies is asking the town to change the zoning rules. The rules allow for a certain percentage of residential versus commercial units.
It's confusing, but the end result is that if the town changes the zoning rules, the developers will be able to increase the allowable residential development from 240 units to 780. A unit is a residence, no matter how large, and according to the mayor's calculations, based on 2.4 residents per unit, this could result in an increase in town population by 1,872, as opposed to 576 under the current rules. (Making this a bit more confusing is the fact that there are actually two different developments over there that fall under this zoning designation. Changing the zoning for one, changes it for both.)
Let's just round up and say 2,000 more people and a population increase of about 33%, from approximately 4,000 to 6000. (And might this add up to about 1,000 more cars, 1500 more cars?)
The mayor is asking to hear from the town about this potential change. She writes: "It is of utmost importance to me and the Town Council that we include public opinion in our decision making process so we know we are acting in your best interest. The only way to do this is to hear from you -- every single one of you."
But what are our best interests?
For us, as citizens, to persuade the town government to act in our best interests, it's important that we know what's going on, so that we can figure out what our best interests actually are.
But first it might be helpful to know some history, which is what this site is about.
A Brief History
You probably know that the Warfield Complex was once part of a much larger facility known as Springfield Hospital. Actually, when it opened, it was called "The Second Maryland Hospital for the Insane." The first such hospital was in Spring Grove, and it was rundown and overcrowded. So they needed another one.
Springfield was basically a massive institution for housing the mentally impaired. The hospital still operates over there in a reduced capacity and much of the original hospital is no longer in use.
Before it became a hospital, it was a large farm. You might call it a plantation. Originally, it was the summer residence of William Patterson, a very wealthy Baltimore shipbuilder, real estate magnate, and all around important and wealthy guy. He got rich at a young age by buying a couple ships and supplying George Washington's struggling army with guns.
Patterson became world famous when his daughter, Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson, married Jerome Bonaparte in 1803, the youngest brother of the infamous Napoleon. But that's another story.
Eventually, William's son, George Patterson, took over at Springfield. He was the biggest slaveholder in the area and a very wealthy and successful farmer. His family lived in a large mansion, that faced out over the huge and beautiful acres of Patterson land.
There were many workers, animals, fields, and buildings, and it resembled a small city.
The Patterson farm shared a border with another large farm known as Brown's Inheritance, owned by a man named Stephen Brown. Stephen had a son named Frank, and eventually Frank Brown came into possession of both farms and combined them into one. (You can read about the Pattersons and Browns in Volume 2 of Sykesville Stories.)
Frank Brown served as governor of Maryland from 1892 to 1896, and after his term as governor he sold about 700 acres of his land, including the mansion, to the state for the new hospital. (The mansion burned in 1913. They built a new mansion on the same spot. You can see it from the parking lot of High's on route 32.)
There were many troubled minds in 20th century Maryland, and Springfield's population grew rapidly. The state acquired more adjoining land. By mid-century there were over 70 buildings on some 3,000 acres, thousands of patients, and thousands of employees to take care of them.
There was a large complex, or colony, for strictly men. There was another for epileptics. There was another for women. Eventually, they named the place where the men lived the Martin Gross Complex, after one of the institution's doctors, and where the women lived became the Warfield Complex, after a governor of Maryland named Edwin Warfield.
Each of these colonies operated independently and included a number of buildings. They referred to the residential buildings where the patients lived as cottages. The cottages were designated by a letter, except in the epileptic colony, where they were numbered.
Springfield became a large, somewhat self-sufficient city unto itself, tightly intertwined with the Town of Sykesville.
But eventually the state adopted new ways of handling troubled minds. Big institutions fell out of favor. Springfield began to empty out and shrink. The patients left. The jobs dried up. The buildings went vacant.
And decay set in.
The Martin Gross Complex is abandoned. It's overgrown and crumbling. It's once-beautiful buildings, most of them over a hundred years old, are slowly caving in on themselves. The state owns them and doesn't seem inclined to do anything about them.
The Warfield Complex, however, still has some life in it. The town acquired the property with the intent of saving the old buildings and doing something interesting, incorporating the buildings and the whole complex into the town, and adding a new part of town that would be attractive, enjoyable, and valuable.
So far three of the old buildings have been nicely renovated. It can be done. But the others are just sitting there, waiting.
Pieces are falling off. Windows are broken. Porches are collapsing. They've been vandalized. Once beautiful, they're in the process of turning sad and ugly.
The developers who bought them don't seem to be doing anything to maintain them. In fact, no one seems to be doing anything to maintain them. And a sort of demolition by neglect is taking place.
And that's where we are now.
Former mayor Jonathan Herman owns this building. It's one of the three that have been renovated, and it's inhabited by a small high-tech firm. The proposed zoning change would make it possible to turn this building and the other currently occupied commercial developments into residential units.
Back to the Mayor
Note that the town has a planning commission. The planning commission makes recommendations to the mayor and town council. The mayor and the 6 members of council each get one vote on matters, and this is how decisions are made. Four votes wins.
To get a better understanding of the current state of affairs, we emailed the mayor, some questions and she sent back a detailed response, which you can read here.