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Annexation request on horizon in Thurmont

Developer seeks to build strip mall,
400 homes on property just outside town

Ingrid Mezo

(3/16) In the next few months, Thurmont will receive a formal annexation request proposing that the town annex the 235-acre Myers farm behind the Shamrock Restaurant along U.S. Route 15.

A developer wants to build a large chain store, a strip mall and up to 400 homes on the property. The area on which the development is being proposed is currently zoned agricultural.

Mayor Martin Burns said he is neither for nor against the annexation proposal at this point. He has written several articles for local newspapers in recent months to inform town residents that the proposal is coming.

''My whole intent as the mayor of the town was to get this out to the town residents as soon as possible so everybody knows what's coming,' he said.

Lowe's, Wal-mart, Home Depot and Target have all expressed interest in building stores at the site, Burns said.

Burns also said he and the town commissioners have spoken with real estate firm Tyler Donegan representatives and wanted to hear the developer's pitch for the annexation before making a decision.

A town can require a developer to meet any requirements it likes, such as building additions to schools or paying for infrastructure repairs as a condition of annexation.

''I told them nothing will happen until all the [sewer system] problems are fixed,' Burns said. ''I told them there were all kinds of stipulations the town would request to even consider the proposal.'

Some of the offers that Tyler Donegan has discussed with town officials as conditions of annexation include: paying for repairs to the town sewer system; building a wastewater treatment plant; building the shell of a new town hall; and paying the town an undisclosed amount of money, Burns said.

While Burns said he fully supports a referendum on the annexation and will base his decision on what town residents want, he also said he wants town residents to make an informed decision.

The developer could choose to build out the property without involving the town, and would then not be subject to the town's adequate public facilities ordinance. The town would then gain nothing from the development, Burns said.

''I've voted against every residential annexation that's come before me since I took office,' Burns said. ''[But] if we don't bring in some revenue to offset the loss in revenue... hey, your taxes will go through the roof.'

Several residents who live outside the town limits near the area in which the development is being proposed have already come forward against the annexation.

Kevin Haney, who lives on Kelbaugh Road, said a referendum would be unfair because it would not give residents who would be affected most by the development a chance to vote on the issue.

''For us that live next to this farm, and those that travel by it every day, it is not a business decision,' Haney said in an e-mail to The Gazette. ''It is a decision about what we want the quality of our life to be, a decision about what we value and hold dear, and a decision about how we will (or won't) preserve the land for future generations.'

Haney met Monday with a group of about 16 concerned residents and representatives from the Frederick Regional Action Network and Friends of Frederick County to discuss concerns. Haney said they will petition both county and town officials not to allow development in the area.

''This is going to the next major land use fight in northern Frederick County,' Haney said.

The town sent a four-page survey to town residents several months ago, to which more than 600 people responded, according to planning and zoning committee member John Kinnaird. While the survey did not specifically ask residents whether they were in favor of the annexation, it asked residents about their views on development and about what they would like for the future of the town.

The results of the survey have not been completely tallied yet, but will be presented at the town's planning and zoning meeting at 7 p.m., March 23, in the town office, 10 Frederick Road.

The town's master plan will be the main subject of discussion during this and future planning and zoning meetings.

"I would encourage people to come to the master plan meetings," Kinnaird said. "This is the time people can make their opinions [regarding the annexation] known.

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