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Some foresee boon from annexation;
others hope to avoid importing problems

Pamela Rigaux
Frederick News Post

(4/14) The owners of 235 acres about a quarter-mile north of town want to sell their farm, and the highest bidder is a developer that plans to turn 180 acres into houses and a strip mall.

The property is behind the Shamrock Restaurant along U.S. 15 and Franklinville Road, near the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains.

The development would increase the town's population by nearly 20 percent, because the prospective buyer, Ijamsville-based Tyler-Donegan Real Estate Services Inc., wants to build between 300 and 400 single-family homes. The estimated population of Thurmont in 2003, according to the U.S. Census, was 5,890.

The developer also wants to bring in a box store such as Lowe's, Wal-Mart or Home Depot, Mayor Martin Burns said Wednesday evening.

The mayor met with residents at the town office to discuss the proposal, which has not yet been officially presented. It is expected to come before the town board of commissioners in the next six months.

To annex or not

The land, owned by farmer Roy Eugene Myers and his six siblings, currently cannot have more than a dozen new houses, because is it zoned for agricultural uses, said John Ford, the town's planning and zoning chairman.

But during the past six months, representatives from Tyler-Donegan have met with Mr. Burns, town commissioner William Blakeslee and other businessmen to see if the town would be interested in annexing the land.

Once annexed, the town would have the right to change the zoning to allow commercial and residential development, Mr. Burns said.

Mr. Myers believes town residents, if given the chance to vote in a special referendum, would want the change. Thurmont is between Frederick and Gettysburg, so it makes sense to develop there, he said.

"If gas goes up $1, it'd be nice for people to have a less-expensive store," he said. "There's a Dollar Store here. There's no Costco, no Sam's Club, no Wal-Mart. I think a lot of people are consolidating their trips. I know I think twice before I go down to Frederick."

Thurmont resident Kim Hagan said she would vote for the change.

"It just gets to be a pain to drive to get anything," she said. "I drove to Frederick twice yesterday. (Local stores) gouge you because they can. Everything downtown closes early."

Mr. Burns said the board has not taken a position. He intends to vote the way residents want him to, but he believes the town could reap benefits from the development.

It would bring tax revenue and jobs, he said, and the impact fees from new houses would offset losses the town might face if it continues to maintain a slow-growth policy of fewer than 54 houses annually.

"If you want no growth, I'm good with that," Mr. Burns said. "But your sewer rates, water rates, electricity will go up."

The slow-growth concept might not have to be entirely abandoned, Mr. Burns said. It might be possible to limit residential development to a certain number of homes per year.

"(Developers) said they would be open to building the commercial aspect first," he said. "They'd build the residential after the commercial; 2009 is when they project the residential to begin to be built."

The idea didn't interest resident Thomas Cromwell and many of the other 40 residents who attended Wednesday's meeting.

Mr. Cromwell said tourists associate the town with mountains and farms.

"Putting up a Wal-Mart isn't part of that," he said. "Let the developer fit our vision. We need to decide what is the gateway to the mountains."

There are a lot of folks who are opposed to the Myers farm being added to town and developed, said Kai Hagen, who lives just outside Thurmont and is running for county commissioner.

"I think they have many compelling reasons and arguments that go well beyond what anyone could credibly write off as NIMBY-ism," he said.

NIMBY is an acronym standing for "not in my backyard."

The decision is one the town's commissioners would have to make when the developer proposes an annexation, Mr. Burns said.

The board could deny the request, and residents could still vote on it through a special referendum, Mr. Burns said. He prefers a referendum because residents have expressed interest in a box store and more jobs, but their opinions on an annexation aren't clear, he said.

Mr. Burns said he would consider changing the town's charter so the board could have the power to request a referendum.

No say in the matter

The roughly 200 residents who live closest to the land being considered for annexation, on Franklinville, Kelbaugh and Orchard roads, wouldn't have the right to vote in a referendum, because they don't live within the town limits.

Several of them pointed out the reason they moved to the area was privacy.

"The farmland isn't even at the edge of the town's boundaries," said Kevin Haney, who lives on Kelbaugh Road. "They'd have to annex a corridor. It'd be a lollipop, makeshift, but that's what towns all over Frederick County are doing."

Kelbaugh Road already has traffic congestion, and Mr. Haney's neighbors fear Orchard Road would be shut down, he said.

"When I go to get the newspaper in the morning, I can't hardly stand for a few minutes without a rush of cars coming through. A thousand more people wouldn't work."

The town's willingness to discuss such a dramatic change so close to home have made Mr. Haney and his neighbors nervous, he said.

"God only knows if it'll happen," Mr. Haney said. "If it goes to referendum, because we're not in town, the vote will be made by people who aren't most affected. That's just a loophole in the laws."

Linda Davis moved into a house on Franklinville Road 42 years ago to get out of town, she said. She questioned the town's ability to handle the growth, given the sewer problems and tight water supplies.

"I know things have to grow, but what they're talking about, it's a big thing. Will schools grow? Will roads expand?" she said.

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