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Planning and Zoning Commission denies Stonewall Acres rezoning request

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

(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 growth.

"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 assessment.

"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.

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