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Liberty Township residents air concerns over proposed 1,181-home development

Erin Negley
Evening Sun Reporter

Thirty-five people spoke against the Liberty Valley planned residential development proposed along Crum and Pecher roads. No one supported the 1,181-unit development proposed by The Wormald Companies of Frederick, Md.

Tentative plans for Liberty Valley include estate homes, townhouses, condominiums as well as a retail center, horse stables, a new township hall, recreation space and equestrian trails.

Even though township residents have discussed residential growth and large developments such as Liberty Valley at recent planning commission meetings, Monday's hearing was the first chance for supervisors to hear from the community. Since The Wormald Companies submitted a development plan in July, supervisors have not set aside time for public comment.

Monday's hearing started at 4 p.m. Some residents brought seat cushions to help them last until the meeting's end at 10:45 p.m. At its peak, 80 people attended.

The speakers ­ mainly township residents ­ listed the reasons they felt supervisors should deny the development.

Some said those living on fixed incomes might not be able to afford living in the township if taxes increase to pay for road improvements, a larger police force and a bigger school.

"I was born and raised in Liberty Township," Stultz Road resident Darlene Michael said. "I won't be able to afford to die here."

Gannett Fleming, a Camp Hill engineering firm working for the developer, calculated Liberty Valley's revenues would exceed its costs and generate more than $3 million annually in tax revenue for the district and the township. These figures do not include costs for road improvements or school expansions.

Monday night, Fairfield schools superintendent Gary Miller said he anticipates about 874 students from Liberty Valley will enroll in the district. This influx of students would require a new $40 million school and $2 million for additional staffing. The development would increase the district's millage rate by 25 mills, Miller said.

With the district's 32.1-mill-tax rate, the owner of a $100,000 home paid $1,560 in taxes in 2003. The possible tax increase would bring the same homeowner's bill to $2,605.

During a break at the hearing, Wormald vice president Ken Wormald countered Miller's statistics. Wormald said more students move into resale homes than new homes. He estimated the development would mean 283 new students for the school district.

Residents said Liberty Township's quality of life will change for the worse with the large development.

Pecher Road resident Teresa Rodgers said Liberty Valley will rob the area of its rural appeal and transform the land into a concrete jungle.

"The plan is not growth and it's not development," said Tract Road resident Nancy Kepner. "It is urbanization."

Stan Thorton, a Pecher Road resident, lamented the loss of wildlife, outdoor environment and agricultural land for future generations.

Other residents said they worried about increased traffic on narrow, winding roads frequented by slow farm vehicles and Liberty Valley's water demands potentially draining their wells.

Adjoining property owners said portions of their land ­ and nearby roads ­ flood after storms. They speculated flooding would increase when fields are paved for the development.

Save Our Liberty co-chair Diane Bittle reminded supervisors they must enforce the township's zoning in the best interest of the public and protect the citizens' health, safety, morals and general welfare. Save Our Liberty is a group of citizens opposed to Liberty Valley.

A public hearing set for Wednesday is the last scheduled for Liberty Valley. The developer and Save Our Liberty will interview witnesses and there may be time for more public participation, township solicitor Walton Davis said.

Liberty taxpayers and residents as well as officials from neighboring municipalities can speak their mind about the development. Others who want to voice their opinions can send their comments to the township office, Davis said. The 6:30 p.m. meeting will be held in Fairfield's fire hall, 106 Steelman St.

Supervisors will make their decision on the development within 30 days after the hearing ends.

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