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Referendum on Annexation

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

The recently approved annexation of 67 acres into the town limits of Emmitsburg will not happen if Bill O'Neill has his way.

O'Neill and about 19 other residents have organized a group known as COPE -- Citizens Organization to Preserve Emmitsburg -- to petition the annexation to a town referendum.

The whole issue is about the annexation of Silver Fancy Farm, which will be developed by Buckeye Development into 130 homes. In late August, much to the dismay of several town residents, the town's board of commissioners voted 2-1-1 to approve the annexation.

Commissioners Ted Brennan and Clifford Sweeney voted for the annexation, while Joyce Rosensteel voted against it. Commission President Patrick Boyle recused himself from the discussions and vote because his family owns the largest parcel of land in the annexation.

Under the town charter, if COPE can collect about 230 signatures (20 percent of the current registered voters in the town) by Oct. 20, the mayor is required under the charter to hold a vote on the issue. That's all O'Neill said the group wants and he thinks that's what they will get. In fact, they are going to try to get twice as many signatures as they need.

"I think we are going to do very well (getting the signatures)," he said. " Everyone is interested in the petition.... It just puts the democratic process into action...If you are a neutral resident of Emmitsburg and haven't yet made your mind up, this gives you more time to consider (the issue)."

Residents forced an annexation to go to referendum in Brunswick as well. In August voters supported a 1,505-home development which will be located on 455.7 acres.

O'Neill said his argument is that everyone in the town has a right to have a say in decisions affecting the long term health and welfare of the town, so a vote on annexing the property should be something the whole town decides. He and the others in his group take issue with only two commissioners having the ability to approve the annexation.

As for the petitions, he said he doesn't have to convince people to agree with his concerns about the annexation. They only have to agree that everyone should vote on it.

Of course O'Neill, a resident of Emmitsburg since June of this year, said he and the others are very concerned about the annexation and do not want it to go forward. O'Neill said the town does not have enough water, the figures given for the estimates in the schools are completely wrong and traffic is a major problem now.

Mayor Jim Hoover, who signed the resolution approving the annexation, said he signed it so that a referendum could go forward. If he had vetoed the resolution it would mean that only one person ­ him ­ made the decision. This way the whole town can have a vote, he said.

Hoover said he feels the issues that the group is raising were addressed in the annexation requirements.

For example, the agreement will require that the developer pay the full $400,000 to replace the deteriorated water main at North Seton Avenue. The town will credit back $200,000 to the developer in tap fees but Hoover said the town will have a new main and still get over $800,000 in tap fees and impact fees from the development.

In addition, the developer is required to provide a well producing a minimum of 200 gallons per day for each of the 130 homes before he starts to build. Because it will take about four years to build all the homes, the town will have the benefit of the water for all that time. The developer is also installing the equipment to treat the water and ultimately turning all of this over to the town.

And the reason the town is having the infrastructure problems it is having is because of the lack of action by previous administrations, he said.

"The reason we are in this situation is because previous administrations did not set sewer and water tap money aside for infrastructure repairs," he said by phone Tuesday. "Silo Hill was built. Northgate was built and none of that money was set aside to make repairs...Northgate was allowed to take an inadequate (water) line and use it instead of making the developer pay 100 percent of cost, which is what should have been done."

Hoover said because the water lines are so poor, the town has very little fire protection. Most of the fire hydrants that depend on the failing water main are out of service. That's another critical reason for going forward with the annexation, he said.

Finally, the traffic issue is the result of traffic from Pennsylvania and not from the residents of Emmitsburg.

O'Neill said the town needs to find another way to deal with its problems because there are already about 260 homes being built and there is no telling what impact an additional 130 will have.

As for the critics who suggest the new resident doesn't have the right to keep others away, O'Neill said that's ridiculous. He has as much right to a vote about what happens in Emmitsburg as any other resident. He said he's concerned about not having water now and about the impact of those new residents that haven't even moved in yet.

"I am saying it is not wise to move forward with any more growth until we absorb the growth that has already been approved," he said. "We don't know what the impact of the 200-plus homes will be...and yes that even means the impact of me and my family."

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