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Southgate residents take town to task on permit system

Ingrid Mezo
The Gazette

(8/25) Emmitsburg's current residential permit allotment system is unfair and has left the Southgate community a dangerous place for young children, several residents of the development told town officials last week.

Several Southgate residents appeared before the town's board at a meeting Aug. 15 to petition town officials to revise the permit allotment system. They want the town to issue permits to the developer to allow him to finish construction on the 11 remaining lots in Southgate.

"It's a safety factor," Southgate resident Karen Cranston said. "We're only 35 houses asking for 11 more taps. We're not asking for a whole lot. We'd just like to get our community finished."

The town is only able to grant 20 residential permits per year until it resolves its sewage problems, based on a recommendation from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), Mayor James Hoover said in a phone interview this month.

Apple Tree Homes President Tom Carolan, who is developing the Southgate project, presented town officials with a letter at the Aug. 1 town meeting explaining why he thought his company had been treated unfairly in the permit-granting process.

With the town's current permit allotment system, which uses a formula to allot permits based on the size of the development, the Southgate project will only receive four or five permits this September. This means that in the best-case scenario, Carolan will not get his last zoning certificate until 2007. If Brookfield, a larger project being developed by Ryan Homes in town, adds another 50 lots in 2007, Carolan will not be able to complete the Southgate project until 2008. And, if Ryan adds more lots in 2006, Southgate's completion will be pushed to 2009.

In the meantime, Southgate's street level is not up to the sewer level, since Carolan cannot put the top coat on the street until he is completely done with the development, Southgate resident Stephanie Washek said over the voices of her three young children.

This has left manholes jutting out on the road, which means the town won't come through the development with a plow during winter snowstorms, for fear of damaging their equipment.

Puddles collect on the road whenever it rains, and the children jump in them, soaking their clothing on a regular basis and providing additional frustrations for their parents, residents said. Gravel is strewn over the road, and has caused several children to skid and hurt themselves while riding their bikes through the neighborhood, they added.

A deep storm-water management pond is surrounded by a flimsy fence that Cranston could push over with minimal effort, she told town officials. The fence has started to lean inward in some places, and the ground at the top of the pond where the fence sits is starting to erode. The neighborhood children could easily fall in and drown, she added.

"There is sediment like quicksand at the bottom," Cranston said. "There are spots big enough that my youngest son could crawl under them, and the county inspector can't do anything until all the work is done."

From a safety standpoint, and a mother's point of view, the development leaves a lot to be desired, Cranston said.

"My kid will get into anything," Cranston said. "Our kids want to come down here to see the frogs, and it's not safe for the kids."

The Washeks and the other residents who bought homes in Southgate thought that they would move into a small community of 35 homes that would be completed by now.

"We had no idea we were buying into a neighborhood that is going to be a construction site for five years," Washek said. "But, that's water under the bridge. To us the biggest issue now is the town allowing [Carolan] to finish development. I just want him to be gone and out of our lives... And I think the formula is unfair to Appletree Homes."

The town's current permit allotment formula does grant more taps to larger developers, but the town cannot grant Carolan more taps without being unfair to other developers, Mayor Hoover said.

The community's Homeowners' Association (HOA) had its first meeting two weeks ago, according to HOA President Steve Schaller.

"We decided as a community to put pressure on the town," Schaller said. "There is an anti-growth faction in the town and from my perspective the [tap restriction] is convenient for them... If they really wanted to get [the town's sewage problems] fixed, they could get it fixed. They're kind of content to let it play out slowly because it kind of fits with what they want."

But according to town officials, fixing the town's sewer problems cannot be accomplished that quickly.

"We've only begun fixing our sewer problems," Hoover said. "Once we have an evaluation that we've made a notable improvement, I would feel more than comfortable going to the MDE to ask them to increase our tap allocations."

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