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Carroll County's Department of Economic Development Director is answering concerns the Freedom Area Citizens' Council have aired about the proposed Liberty Exchange business center on Old Liberty Road.

Plans for Liberty Exchange call for two retail buildings, a bank, a gas station, a restaurant, two warehouse buildings and two office buildings.

The community's arguments against Liberty Exchange range from traffic concerns to a desire to keep the former Freedom Golf Center in recreational use.

FACC sent a letter on March 16 to county officials citing seven concerns about the project. (See Letters, page 10.) In an interview with The Eagle, Economic Director Larry Twele addressed FACC assertions, including one that the process has not been "transparent" enough.

"This project receives the same amount of public notice, scrutiny and review as any project does," Twele said.

The project is labeled as a priority projects, he said, meaning its review is moved to the front of the line in each step of the process. But he said, "It's not short-cutting any review process."

Ross Dangel, vice president of FACC, said the county is not doing enough to post signs about the project status at the property, and he's encouraging residents to write to the county's Planning and Zoning Commission to ask for an evening public hearing in Eldersburg concerning the project.

FACC's letter also contends that the construction will be too "ordinary."

"This is a high quality, nice looking business park," Twele said. "We are not promoting a development of shabby looking, tin buildings. This is a brick and glass office park."

Dangel agreed that the project looks nice, but is a "cookie cutter" for its developer, St. John Properties.

"There's nothing that says it's an Eldersburg project," he said. "It's not designed as a nice business park to encourage people to walk through it."

Another FACC assertion is that the building doesn't have enough "green" features, or a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation for energy efficiency and sustainability. But Twele said the project will comply with all county and state environmental and landscaping regulations.

"It already exceeds what the normal standard might be," he said.

And regarding traffic, Twele said a traffic study and traffic counts are needed before staff can comment.

Another FACC assertion is that there's not enough demand for industrial and commercial space, as other projects are not progressing.

But "in that corner of Carroll County, we have very little flex employment space to offer," Twele said. "This will give us the inventory we need in Eldersburg."

Dangel said at a time when real estate owners are trying to keep tenants because of rising costs, it's a bad idea to add new space because tenants could simply move from an older development to a new one. "Other properties are going to fail," he said.

In its letter, FACC says Liberty Exchange could have a negative affect on tenants moving into the Warfield Cultural and Commerce Center in Sykesville and on the redevelopment of Carrolltown Center.

Twele said Warfield can accept some flex space, but is mostly office-oriented.

"Yes, Warfield will be ready to accept that demand," he said. "We get inquiries about Warfield constantly, but ... it's not quite there."

He also said the comparison to Carrolltown is not valid because Carrolltown is retail mall space.

Finally, FACC has noted the need for more recreation space. Dangel said adding some recreational open space would create multiple uses in the park. But Twele said a conservation area in the north part of the property, by a stormwater management plant, is too steep for recreational space.

"This is industrial land," he said, "and for the greater good of the county, employment land needs to be used for employment uses."

The dialogue about the project is not over — the Liberty Exchange proposal is moving through the county's development review process, and FACC has reserved its May 21 meeting to host a representative from St. John Properties to discuss it.


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