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Thurmont farm annexation in flux

Ingrid Mezo
The Gazette

(5/11) Whether he does it, or someone else does the Myers’ Farm property near Thurmont will eventually be built out, developer Tom Hudson said during an interview with The Gazette last week.

Hudson, owner of Hudson Land Development, has not yet made a formal annexation proposal for the 235-acre property, on which he hopes to build 375 homes, a box store, and perhaps medical offices. He expects to make the proposal in two to three months.

‘‘Whether or not the annexation goes through, it is a piece of property that will be developed in the county," Hudson said. ‘‘It’s well located, and something’s going to happen there, one way or another."

About 40 concerned residents who live in the county near the area being proposed for annexation have attended planning and zoning meetings and a talk by Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns in the last few months to speak out against the development. Burns said about 50 people have called him about the potential annexation, and that 95 percent of the people he talked to were opposed to it. Many of them were the same people who have been attending meetings, he said.

County resident Jeff White said during a March interview that his family relocated to the area outside Thurmont from a rural village in England, and were looking for that same atmosphere when they bought their house.

‘‘We feel pretty strongly about this," he said. ‘‘Some people are relocating. Three different houses went up for sale, and it all seemed to be around when these talks started."

Burns has publicly stated support for a referendum on several occasions, but county residents would not be able to vote in the referendum. Town officials have also tried to inform town residents of the ways the annexation could benefit the town.

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

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

Hudson has discussed paying the town an undisclosed amount of money to make repairs to its sewer system, build a wastewater treatment plant, and build the shell of a new town hall, he said.

Hudson could choose to build out the property without requesting annexation, and would then not be subject to town ordinances, Burns said. If the developer meets all the county’s requirements, which would include a zoning change, Thurmont residents would be stuck with the same negative impacts of the development such as traffic congestion, loss of the scenic views, and school overcrowding, but without any benefits.

During his public meeting, Burns said Hudson has not ‘‘even come close to making it interesting so far."

Hudson said he would try to move forward with developing the property even if the town decides against annexation, but would prefer to have consent from the town.

‘‘We are committed to the annexation at this time," Hudson said. ‘‘If things don’t go well, we’ll see what the alternatives would be."

While Hudson did not mince words about wanting to develop near Thurmont, he also indicated a desire to work with town officials and residents interested in helping guide development there.

‘‘This isn’t your standard suburban development," Hudson said. ‘‘This is going to be a town center development, where you can hop in your car and get on [U.S. Route] 15. It’s going to emphasize pedestrian walkways ... It will not look like a strip mall. We want to plug into the existing community and enhance that."

He plans to ask town officials and planners to help him put together a design charrette, or group assembled specifically to come up with a concept for the development that fits in with the needs of the community. The charrette would include 10-15 stakeholders who would outline constraints for the development and flush out a consensus plan, Hudson said. He planned to have a team strategy meeting May 18, and hoped to kick off the group in a month.

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