(10/28/03) The town’s planning and
zoning commission sent a clear message to a group seeking to
rezone about 20.5 acres to build 67 homes: Not now. Last
Thursday night, the planning commission chose to recommend
denial of the Stonewall Acres LLC request to rezone land
sandwiched between Emmitsburg Road and Radio Road. John Ford,
Bill Blakeslee and James Larochelle affirmed the denial
recommendation. Wayne Hooper, the board of commissioners’
representative to the planning panel, abstained from voting.
The land owners got the message. Andy
Mackintosh, who is joined by Jim Mackintosh and Marc Lessans
in the partnership, said Tuesday afternoon that Stonewall
Acres has indefinitely postponed plans to take the request to
the town commissioners.
In making his motion to deny the
request, Mr. Ford cited the staff report that recommended
denial, questions about whether the neighborhood had changed
substantially, and ongoing problems with the town’s sewer
system. The partnership pushed their case as best they could.
Andy Mackintosh, project land planner David Lingg and
architect Gary Baker painted the picture of a
pedestrian-friendly, neighborly community with home facades
reflecting a historic theme.
Mr. Mackintosh said he’d gotten
calls from about 12 Thurmont residents who want to move up to
a nicer home in town, an option Stonewall Acres would offer.
He added that the partners would work to assuage the concerns
of neighboring homeowners.
Krista McGowan, the lawyer for the
ownership group, argued that the property met one of the
criteria needed to change zoning. She said the development of
Pleasant Acres, which is across Radio Lane from the property,
represented a substantial change in the neighborhood.
To counter claims that the
subdivisions aren’t part of the same neighborhood, she cited
a proposed road on the town’s master plan, a street
connecting the Stonewall Acres property with Pleasant Acres.
Ms. McGowan also presented a litany of
reasons the planning board should recommend approval. Aside
from Jermae Estates, a senior housing community, the town
lacks approved lots that are ready for development, she said.
The proposal also is consistent with Maryland’s smart-growth
principles and represented a chance for modest population
"This is a case that we feel is
ripe for rezoning S" she said.
Questions about whether Thurmont has
adequate sewer capacity also bothered the planning panel.
Members cited instances this year in which untreated sewerage
has either backed up into people’s homes or been pumped from
the sewer system to prevent backups.
"Sewerage is positively an
issue," said Mr. Blakeslee. "I can’t think that
you can say now that we have adequate capacity. Whenever we
have heavy rains now, we’re out pumping sewerage out"
of the sewer system.
Ms. McGowan countered that the
development could help solve the problem. Water and sewer
connection fees that would be paid could finance sewer
repairs, she said.
Mr. Ford said he didn’t agree that
the development of Pleasant Acres represented a substantial
neighborhood change. He noted that the subdivision borders
only 14 percent of the Stonewall Acres property’s perimeter.
The majority, he said, is surrounded by agricultural land,
including some with livestock on it.
"I don’t see a substantial
change," he said. "You could say there’s a change,
but I think the word is substantial."
Mr. Ford continued to say the town
needed to slow its growth rate and complete its sewer system
"I think it’s just not the time
to do it," he concluded.
Ms. McGowan asked when the time would
be right. She unsuccessfully argued that since it takes time
for a development to work through the planning process, the
town could safely approve the rezoning so lots can be ready
when the sewer problems are solved.