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Town, Southgate developer reach agreement

Compromise means completion of neighborhood

Ingrid Mezo

(3/23) Safety problems in Emmitsburg’s Southgate community may soon be resolved, thanks to a compromise reached during a town meeting Monday between the town and the community’s developer.

Emmitsburg officials voted unanimously in favor of allowing Southgate developer Tom Carolan to use a bond instead of a letter of credit for stormwater management, sediment and erosion control and improvements in Southgate.

Carolan agreed to put up a $300,000 bond for the $210,000 letters of credit on the community so that he can complete all development there while leaving 11 lots unfinished, according to Town Manager Dave Haller.

‘‘The streets will be paved, the sidewalks will be completed and the people living there now will be living in a basically completed community rather than a community under construction,” Haller said.

Concerned about sending the wrong message for future development in the town, Commissioner Chris Staiger pointed out that the compromise was an ‘‘isolated situation.” It was based on a consent order the town signed with the Maryland Department of the Environment, which effectively restricts the number of permits the town can grant to 20 each year.

‘‘This is an opportunity to improve the quality of life of the residents there,” Staiger said. ‘‘Our intent is not to view bonds as acceptable in lieu of a letter of credit.”

The basic difference between a bond and a letter of credit, according to Haller, is that in many cases in order to get bond money released if the guarantor does not adequately complete the work, the town would have to take him to court to get the money. Such cases are generally resolved in a 20-minute hearing. In the case of a letter of credit, the town would just have to say the work was not completed to their satisfaction to get the money, and the guarantor would have to take the town to court if he disagreed.

Without the compromise, residents in the 35-home community may have had to wait up to three more years before the 11 remaining lots in the community were completed. In the meantime they would have also had to wait for their street level to be brought up to the sewer level, the stormwater management pond to be completed and inspected by Frederick County and other community features to be completed.

Southgate residents in August had asked town officials to find a faster way to get their 35-home community completed, citing numerous safety concerns. Many of the residents there have young children. Because the street has not been finished up to the sewer level, manholes jut out in the road, which means the town won’t come through the development with a plow during winter snowstorms, for fear of damaging their equipment, Southgate resident Stephanie Washek said in an August interview.

Resident Karen Cranston told town officials in August that a deep stormwater management pond in the community is surrounded by a flimsy fence that she could push over with minimal effort. The fence leans 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 said.

‘‘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.”

Southgate Homeowner’s Association president Steve Schaller thanked town officials this week for reaching a compromise with Carolan to address safety concerns sooner rather than later.

‘‘Universally, we’re all in favor of this agreement,” Schaller told town officials. ‘‘But we do have some concerns, especially with the stormwater management. We want to make sure it gets fully inspected.”

Haller told officials that town staff would involve Schaller in the walkthroughs during the inspection process.

Carolan, who at one point had threatened to sue the town if it did not grant him the 11 remaining lots in September, said he was satisfied with the agreement.

‘‘I think it’s a fair compromise,” Carolan said in a phone interview Tueday. ‘‘This kind of gives me a little relief because as a business man this certainly has caused me a great hardship.”

Carolan said he would begin working on the improvements as soon as all the paperwork was in order and contractors to do the job could be scheduled. The work could begin in the next two months, he said.

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