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Liberty hearing extended for another 4 days

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

(Sep. 11, 2003) Despite two nights and nearly seven hours of testimony, the Liberty Township, Pa., board of supervisors still hasn't been able to vote on the proposed 1,142-unit housing development planned just north of Emmitsburg.

This week's two-day public hearing was supposed to determine the fate of a 709-acre equestrian-themed neighborhood to be developed by Liberty Development Company LLC. It quickly became apparent, however, that several more nights would be needed. About 350 attended Monday's session and around 200 came Tuesday.

Four additional nights have been scheduled for later this month.

Residents in both Adams County, Pa., and neighboring Emmitsburg have spoken out in strong opposition to the plan, saying it will congest roads throughout the region, overcrowd schools, overburden the fire and police services, among other problems.

Resident organization fights community

As soon as the application for the Community of Liberty, which is a part of the Wormald Companies, became public, a resident activist organization known as Save Our Liberty formed to combat the development.

Susan Smith, attorney for Save Our Liberty, told the board of supervisors this week that the group believes Liberty Development does not own all of the properties to be used in the community.

Though Smith argued that supervisors should consider that subject first to save everyone time, the board denied the request, allowing Liberty Development attorney Charles Zwally to continue presenting his case.

As of Tuesday evening, only two Liberty Development witnesses had testified and one of those will be cross-examined at the start of the next scheduled hearing.

Zwally also said that the statement by Liberty's general manager Ed Wormald on Monday that all the properties are owned by the company should be sufficient. He challenged Smith to prove otherwise when she presented her case.

On Monday, Wormald said there was a verbal agreement with one property owner and contracts with the rest. On Tuesday night, he testified he obtained a written contract on the property that day.

Also on Monday, during the cross-examination of Wormald, Smith questioned several items in the marketing materials for the community.

One item was a claim stating a design charette was conducted for the community. A design charette usually involves several people in a brainstorming session about a project, however Wormald admitted that only two people were involved.

He said Bob Wormald and one other person participated in the charette, which was held in California. No one from the community was involved, he testified.

Diane Bittle, a co-organizer of Save Our Liberty, lives a little more than four miles from Emmitsburg. She said members of SOL believe the project is simply too large for the small, rural community.

By the time Liberty is completed, it is slated to have more homes than are currently in all of Emmitsburg.

She also said if Wormald's application had been submitted now, it would be denied because the community is in the process of changing its zoning, something she suggested the company knew when it submitted the application July 14.

Issues affecting Emmitsburg

Emmitsburg residents and leaders have expressed concern over several issues that could impact the town, traffic being the most significant. That issue will be discussed at future hearing nights.

The impact of the community on fire and police services was discussed by Richard Koch of the engineering firm Gannett Flemming.

Koch testified for the Wormald Companies that Fairfield, Pa.'s fire company would have a 10- to 15-minute response time to Liberty. Emmitsburg's Vigilant Hose Company is less than seven minutes away, he said. He also stated Vigilant would likely be called because the company has a special piece of equipment used for structural fires.

Wormald offered this week to pay a one-time-payment of $250 per new home to the Fairfield Fire and EMS Company.

No mention of any compensation for Vigilant Hose has been made, according to the board of supervisor's attorney.

Airport, farmer oppose plan

The Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association, which operates a 100-acre airport abutting the proposed community, also opposes the development.

Association spokesman James Trygg questioned Wormald about concerns he has that residents would ultimately try to get rid of the airport because of noise. He said the planes' flight path is just 300 feet above the equestrian center, potentially spooking the horses. Trygg said the flight path cannot be changed.

Barbara Ruppert, a member of Save Our Liberty, said she is also concerned about residents complaining because the community is close to her farm. The need for a low-traffic route to drive a tractor was also mentioned.

Wormald, along with his attorney, said information about the airport and farm could be disclosed in the public offering statement that goes to every homeowner telling them about a number of things, including the plan for the area.

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