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Town Growth Plan Fuels Debate

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

(10/17/2003) When Bill O'Neil Jr. looks at Emmitsburg's Managed and Sustained Growth Proposal (MSGP), he sees a reasoned way to control residential growth while the town makes critical infrastructure repairs.

When Tom Carolan looks at the same document, he sees bankruptcy.

Those divergent visions are the reason Emmitsburg's board of commissioners is feeling sharp growing pains that show few signs of subsiding anytime soon.

Discussion of the town's MSGP drew about two dozen people to the Sleep Inn conference room Wednesday night. The commissioners seem to be weighing the need to curtail growth because of water and sewer line problems versus the town's obligation to developers who invested heavily in projects without warning that the town might restrict their building plans.

As currently written, the proposal would cap the number of residential building permits the town issues annually. Twenty-five would be awarded based on a formula, and the board could issue up to five more in special circumstances.

The town recently experienced a spike in development, rising from issuing 10 permits both in 1999 and 2000 to 51 already this year. Thirteen of those 2003 permits were issued in the three days after a temporary building-permit suspension was lifted.

Mr. Carolan and Richard Demmit, developers with approved subdivision plats in the town, said they don't fault the town for wanting to manage its growth. However, they contended such a decision should have been made before the plats were approved, before they started pre-selling homes, before they invested hundreds of thousands of dollars for infrastructure to serve their developments.

"I'm hearing tonight ... that I might be five years out getting permits for houses," said Mr. Carclan, president of Appletree Homes, who plans to build 33 homes in the Southgate subdivision. "That would be financial ruin for me."

Three men with contracts for homes in Southgate also spoke about the problems they'd encounter if construction is delayed and questioned whether placing limits this late in the building process was right.

Timing also was a key issue addressed by Randy Whittenberger, a lawyer representing Appletree Homes. He said Appletree made improvements required by the town and relied on the government to allow the completion of the project once the subdivision plats were approved. Because of its commitment, he argued, Apple tree shouldn't be affected by any growth restrictions. "It's beyond the 11th hour for them," he said.

Despite the potential hardships, Emmitsburg has serious concerns warranting restrictions. Town Manager David Haller said its wastewater treatment plant exceeded its maximum design capacity limits one of every three days in September and faces steep state fines if the problem persists.

Wildwater is the system's main problem, and repairs on a line believed to be the main source of infiltration should be completed in about a year. Mr. Holler said he thinks the town might avoid fines or be able to bargain for their reduction if a responsible growth plan is enacted.

Mr. O'Neil, speaking for Citizens Organized to Preserve Emmitsburg, said state penalties aren't the only ones possible. He said any citizen could sue the town for violating the Clean Water Act.

"Sewage spilling into streams is a violation of federal law," he said.
MSGP proponents also said school overcrowding and traffic congestion are valid reasons to curb growth.

Commissioner Art Elder said he thought the town should take the advice of its planner and impose the restrictions, but his board colleagues want more information. Commissioner Clifford Sweeney said he wants more data
on schools, and Commissioner Joyce Rosensteel said she didn't like the plan as written.

Mayor Jim Hoover said he thought the 25-permit annual allotment was too low because the town has made a commitment to the developers. "Is the town's word going to be worth anything or not?" he asked.

Patrick Boyle, president of the board, noted it has potential legal problems regardless of what it decides. He said he'd like to know more about the legal ramifications of various decisions, and the town will try to set a public meeting with the town attorney the week of Nov. 10.

Prior to accepting comment on the MSGP, the board unanimously voted to accept two loans from the Maryland Department of the Environment to improve troublesome infrastructure. The loans will finance the replacement of the Little Run sewer line and Mountain View Road water line.

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