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Fairfield Residents Fear Development
 Will Rob Liberty

Erin Cunningham
Frederick News Post

(8/7/03)  When Bobby Keilholtz looks out his living room window, he sees wide open fields and about five or six light poles.

But if the Liberty Township board of supervisors votes to approve a 1,140-home development, he could be staring at what he describes as a "mini-city."

"It's going to change our quality of life," Mr. Keilholtz said.

Many Liberty Township residents agree, saying they're worried the 710-acre project near the Maryland border will increase crime, lower well-water levels, strain the school system, damage already crumbling roads and diminish the mostly agricultural community.

At least one resident supports the plan.

Natalie Williams pointed to a spot on a developer's sketch.

"I envision a little Starbucks right there," said Ms. Williams, who has to travel 45 minutes for a latte.

"This is a great thing. It's going to bring in jobs, and it's a chance for growth," she said.

The debate over the development, The Community at Liberty, reached the board Tuesday night, where it abruptly hit a snag.

More than 250 residents showed up - most opposing the project - and were then silenced by the board. Because the project wasn't on the night's agenda, they weren't allowed to speak.

"We didn't even get to speak our piece," said Diane Bittle, who said she e-mailed and made phone calls to the board asking that the Liberty development be placed on the night's agenda.

The project, in the southwestern part of Adams County outside of Fairfield, has been designed by The Wormald Companies, which also developed The Links and Worman's Mill in Frederick. When complete, it would more than double the population of Liberty Township.

Leonard Sites, chairman of the board, received news midday Tuesday that 50 people might show up the monthly Liberty Township meeting, an increase from the 15 residents who usually attend. This number soon swelled to more than 250.

"I'm shocked," he said.

Most residents said they learned about the proposed subdivision about two weeks ago. About 50 residents, hoping to preserve their quality of life and remove what they describe as a threat, quickly formed Save Our Liberty. Ms. Bittle said she received calls non-stop Wednesday morning from residents wanting to join the group hoping to preserve their rural culture.

After she found out about the Liberty subdivision, Ms. Bittle began calling friends and neighbors.

"Nobody knew anything about this," she said."We aren't being informed about something that is drastically going to affect our community."

The landowners approached Wormald in 2000 to develop the property, said Ken Wormald, a vice president at the company, which started work in 2002 and submitted a plan to the supervisors in July.

Ms. Bittle showed up at Tuesday's meeting carrying zoning maps and county regulations.

"The land is zoned for agriculture, residential and conservation and very low density housing," she said. "Liberty Township does not allow for personal residential development."

Ms. Bittle and other residents said they believe the board is trying to slide the development in under the wire because new zoning regulations are in the works that would ban such a development in Liberty Township.

"They are basing this on our comprehensive plan, which incorporates old zoning ordinances," she said. "They are very close to updating to new zoning ordinances. For a developer to come in and ask for a personal residential development based on the new ordinances is fine to me, but to ask for it based on ordinances from the 1970s is not right to me."

If given the green light by the board of supervisors, the development would be built over the next 15 years, following ordinances from 20 years ago, instead of ordinances now in the planning stages.

But Mr. Sites said the way Wormald presented the development, it is within the existing guidelines.

"The state treats it as a different concept," he said. "It is not considered a subdivision. That doesn't mean a thing here."

Road construction and traffic were also high on the list of resident concerns. Emmitsburg Mayor Jim Hoover also was in attendance, concerned that 1,140 more homes might mean 1,140 more drivers would be commuting from Liberty Township through Emmitsburg on their way to U.S. 15.

Mr. Wormald said he anticipated some opposition to the development.

"With this size of a community, it's very normal," he said, referring Liberty Township's population of 1,050. "There's always going to be the people who don't want to see any additional development."

But he also said the residential development incorporates the township's rural atmosphere with an equestrian theme, riding trails and low-density housing.

While Mr. Sites said he hasn't decided how he will vote, he described the proposed Liberty development as "beautiful" but did say it would have "a major impact" on the surrounding community.

"The people are concerned with taxes, roads and the impact on schools," he said.

While the majority of the attendees showed a clear opposition for such drastic growth, some residents don't think their opinion, when put on the record at the public hearing Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m., will be considered.

"Just because the community doesn't want it, doesn't mean it's not going to happen," said Sherry Stein, who lives about a mile from the proposed site.

According to the board of supervisors, one of three things can come of the proposal. The board can accept it as is, make changes and accept it, or deny it.

But one resident questioned the board about the relevance of the process, asserting that the only way the board can reject the entire project is if something in the tentative plan is illegal or violates code.

After the Tuesday meeting adjourned, Ed Wormald gave a brief presentation to inform residents about the aesthetics and planning project of the new community.

Liberty is described as a master planned development, which differs from spontaneous growth. The subdivision will be constructed through more than 10 phases over about 15 years. A new town hall will be constructed at the center of the development, replacing the current town hall and meeting center.

A village center also will be built with a post office, a grocery store and other chain stores and shops.

And while Ms. Williams said the development is designed to appeal to families without children, area residents are still concerned with the effect that 1,140 more homes will have on the Fairfield school system, which consists of a elementary, middle and high school already at or near capacity, according to a Fairfield school system representative.

During his presentation, Ed Wormald said that by using statistics from Carroll County developers, they determined that 571 new students would be moving into the development. He said comparable data from Adams County wasn't available.

Ms. Bittle called these numbers "comical."

"You can't project that there's only going to be 571 new students that are going to be living in the 1,140 family homes," Ms. Bittle said. "The homes are beautiful three- and four-bedroom homes, and those aren't appealing to people without children."

Ms. Bittle said she didn't understand why the statistics were based on Carroll County numbers instead of Frederick, saying she thinks the student population problems Fairfield will face will be similar to problems faced in Frederick County, which recently had to build a new high school to accommodate a growing student population.

Residents also said they are concerned about water levels in Liberty Township, where every residence has its own well. "The fear is this development will come in and everyone else's well will go dry," Ms. Bittle said.

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