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Wormald to present evidence on
supervisor's bias against development

 Matt Furman
Evening Sun Reporter

(9/27/2004) Lawyers with the Wormald Companies claim Liberty Township supervisor Paul Harner never liked the company's plan to build 1,181 homes in the rural Adams County township.

They also believe a controversial 1985 change to the township's zoning ordinances didn't forbid the type of project Wormald wants to create in Liberty.

In a ruling dated Monday, Adams County Judge Michael George said he will allow them to present evidence to back up both allegations Nov. 10.

The ruling is the latest shot in a skirmish over the proposed 1,181-home development dubbed Liberty Valley.

In mid-March, supervisors rejected plans for the large Liberty Valley development that had been submitted by Wormald Companies of Frederick, Md.

The community was planned for 445 acres along Crum, Tract and Pecher roads. Tentative plans called for estate homes, townhouses, condominiums as well as a retail center, horse stables, a new township hall, recreation space and horse trails.

Supervisors Paul Harner and John Miller voted to deny the plans because they believed planned residential developments, such as the Liberty Valley proposal, were banned throughout the township in 1985.

Miller and Harner based their votes on supervisors' 1985 decisions to remove all special exceptions from their zoning ordinances. Planned residential developments - communities with a mix of housing types clustered together - had been allowed previously, but only as a special exception.

But language defining planned residential developments remained part of the township's zoning ordinance until the month before the denial, when supervisors removed that language. Wormald attorney James Strong said retention of that language by supervisors in 1985 means they wanted to leave guidelines for construction of planned residential developments.

Strong said this point will be pounded home at the hearing, as well as evidence of bias against the project, and all development projects, by Harner.

Harner ran his campaign for supervisor as a vocal critic of large housing developments. He was elected on a write-in ticket in the period between the plan's submission and rejection.

Strong said numerous newspaper stories quoting Harner and his paid political advertisements will buttress this alleged bias.

"All of that will be used to show his bias," Strong said.

Harner declined comment on the claim, but said he'd address it at the hearing.

"I'll respond to it in court," he said.

Also in the ruling, George denied a request by the residents group Save Our Liberty to state their case in the appeal.

Save Our Liberty formed as a result of the proposed community. Members voiced a wide range of concerns about the development, which had the potential to triple the township's population.

But Save Our Liberty members will still play a role in the appeal. Fourteen landowners who are members of the group have been approved by George to voice their opposition in the appeal hearing.

Two businesses that oppose the development have also been approved: Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association and Ruppert Family LP.

Still, Save Our Liberty co-chairman Bill Packer wishes the group could be recognized as a whole, the way it was at the municipal level.

"I'm disappointed," Packer said. "As a group, we've played a fundamental role in this so far."

The Nov. 10 hearing is set for 2 p.m. A date for the appeal hearing has not been set.

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