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Commissioners to review Bollinger annexation request and growth moratorium

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

(1/31/04) Town commissioners have cleared most of their Monday night agenda to give them time to ponder two major issues.

Early in the board of commissioners' meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Sleep Inn & Suites conference room, the panel will decide whether to bring 20.3 acres owned by Bollinger Properties LLC into the town limits. It's the first annexation request to come before the commissioners since voters overwhelmingly over-turned a board decision at the polls.

The last item on the agenda will be Emmitsburg's latest plan to slow growth while sewer repairs are made. The proposal is to enact a temporary moratorium until the system meets specified performance criteria.

Both measures go to the heart of growth, the most controversial political topic in town for months.

With two board seats up for election next spring, the voting will be closely watched.

The Bollinger request comes to the board more than six months after it was first considered by Emmitsburg's planning and zoning commission. The town nearly engulfs the parcel. A gap of about 50 feet between two properties is all that keeps it from being an enclave, surrounded entirely by town land.

Because of the property's location, the planners unanimously voted in September to recommend annexation approval. No opposition to the annexation was presented at that meeting.

Josh Bollinger, one of three family members involved in the partnership, said 50 upscale single-family homes will eventually be built on the land.

Both Jim Gugel, the Frederick County planner who is completing his final project with the town, and Mike Lucas, the town's planner for almost six months, said they believe annexing the land is good land-use policy.

Mr. Lucas, however, said he doesn't agree with the developer's request to be exempt from paying town taxes on the land or until five years after the land can be developed.

The last annexation bid in Emmitsburg would have brought 67 acres into the town, allowing about 80 single-family homes, 50 townhouses and several small businesses to be built. The request was passed by the board in August 2002, but citizens successfully petitioned to allow residents to vote on it in a referendum.

The matter gave rise to COPE, which campaigned aggressively for the annexation's defeat. Town voters listened to the grassroots group, and defeated the annexation by a 3-to-1 margin.

The town also will consider a moratorium that would impact lots not already approved for development. If passed, sewer service wouldn't be provided to any new locations until the town's wastewater treatment plant goes at least 180 days with-out exceeding its maximum design capacity of 800,000 gallons per day.

In 2003, the plant exceeded that capacity about every five days on average. David Haller, Emmitsburg's town manager, said records indicate that in 2002 and 2003, the design capacity was exceeded at least one day in 21 of the 24 months. The only months in which that capacity wasn't surpassed at least once were June 2002, June 2003 and July 2003.

Bill O'Neil Jr., president of Citizens Organized to Preserve Emmitsburg Inc., said the group stands ready to oppose both measures. He said conditions sought in the Bollinger annexation request, including the tax-relief proviso and a condition saying the property will not be subject to any future adequate public facilities ordinance, are not good for the town.

While the moratorium would seem to bolster COPE's growth-control agenda, Mr. O'Neil said the moratorium doesn't go far enough. Because those projects are approved, the proposed agreement would allow homes to be built in Southgate and the first phase of the Brookfield subdivision. In those developments, 155 lots are approved.

"I think a moratorium should mean exactly that — not build some (homes), build none," Mr. O'Neil said. "I don't believe any houses should be built until the water and sewer crisis is solved."

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