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Growth Controversy Rages in Town

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

(10/6/2003) The town has another growth controversy. People looking to comment on the Residential Growth Management Plan being considered by the board of commissioners packed the town office meeting room Monday night.

Those with direct financial stakes in Emmitsburg's growth and some opposed to development stated their positions, and board President Patrick Boyle was involved in a heated exchange with a member of Citizens Organized to Preserve Emmitsburg (COPE).

The plan would restrict the number of building permits that can be issued over the next three years to allow the town time to repair water and sewer infrastructure problems.

As proposed, it would allow 25 building permits to be issued each of those years. Five additional permits could be issued based on hardship or special circumstances, meaning a maximum of 30 permits would be allotted annually.

The debate centered around two arguments. Developers, one of their lawyers, builders, marketers and a home buyer claimed the town's timing was wrong. They argued that infrastructure problems should've been considered before granting final approval to subdivision lots. When the lots were approved, they assumed the land could be developed on their timetable and started investing in their projects.

Randall Whittenberger, a lawyer representing Southgate developers Betty and Charles Hogendorp, said his clients had between $1.5 million and $2 million invested in the subdivision. He said the "builders relied on the process of government. They've done what they had to do."

Susan Songy, whose company was hired to market Southgate, said the change would double the time needed to sell those homes, effectively cutting her income in half. Contracts already are written for 21 of the development's 33 lots, she said.

Proponents of slower growth, however, touted the initiative. Bill O'Neil Jr., president of the grassroots organization COPE, claimed that school overcrowding and traffic increases also should be considered, too. He asserted that reducing the number of permits issued to 17 or even 10 annually produced far better results. "This proposal is a step in the right direction," he said, "but I don't think it goes far enough."

Mr. Boyle said he thought the plan was "very valuable" but is being implemented improperly. "We accepted the plats of these two developments," he said. "We're putting this in after the horse is out of the barn.

The debate also involved an exchange over Mr. O'Neil's right, according to Robert's Rules of Order, to answer a question posed by Mr. Boyle.

When Lisa Elder, COPE's secretary, angrily asked why Mr. Boyle wouldn't allow Mr. O'Neil to speak, the board president slammed the gavel and told Ms. Elder to be quiet because she was out of order. Mr. Boyle later allowed Mr. O'Neil to answer the question.

The commissioners decided to hold another public meeting on the plan on Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sleep Inn conference room.

The town's temporary ban on the issuance of building permits will expire on Oct. 10. Commissioner Art Elder sought to extend the ban while the growth plan is considered, but his motion was not seconded.

Later, the board decided to hold a separate public hearing on Richard Demmitt's request to rezone part of the Brookfield subdivision. That hearing is set for Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sleep Inn.

The board also finalized part of the legislation required to shift the town's elections from May to October. It unanimously agreed to amend its charter to allow the next election for each commissioner's seat and the mayor's position to be for a term of three years and five months instead of just three years. Though the terms were changed, the election date wasn't. The ordinance required to shift the elections to October was tabled because it was written to take effect immediately. After a motion to pass it was made and seconded, Mayor Jim Hoover noted that passage would mean that for three years, seats would be vacant for about five months before an election to fill them was held. The election-date shift shouldn't take place until 2007.

The commissioners also formally moved the candidate filing date from seven days before an election to 21 days prior. The change was made so absentee bal lots could be provided earlier.

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