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Annexation foes weigh options

Ingrid Mezo

(4/20) Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns said this week he would ‘‘fully support a referendum" to determine whether town residents support a pending annexation.

A potential annexation of the 235-acre Myers farm into Thurmont would likely result in a ‘‘big-box" store and 300-400 new homes.

A referendum vote would only be necessary if town officials vote to pass an annexation resolution.

At this point, Hudson Land, a development firm that has a contract to purchase the Myers’ farm property, has yet to take the first legal step in initiating the annexation process, company owner Tom Hudson said in a phone interview Monday.

Annexation proceedings in Maryland can be initiated either with a petition signed by at least 25 percent of residents or by town government with the voters’ consent, according to the Maryland Municipal League.

Once town officials have consent or Hudson has the petition, then town officials can present a resolution for the annexation.

After that, town officials would have to publish notice of the proposed annexation hearing four times prior to the hearing. After the hearing, town officials vote to pass or reject the resolution for annexation.

If they vote in favor of the annexation, the resolution becomes effective 45 days after the vote, unless it is petitioned to referendum.

Hudson said his company still needs to do work before submitting a petition for annexation. ‘‘We have no agreements with any big box retailers yet," Hudson said. ‘‘... No firm dates have been set yet, and we’re waiting to hear what’s going to happen with the next planning exercise in May."

Mayor’s meeting

Burns held a meeting last week to tell residents everything he knows about the potential annexation and give them the opportunity to ask him questions. He said at the meeting that 95 percent of the e-mails he had received regarding the annexation were opposed to it. He also said his wife is opposed to the annexation.

Burns said he has no control over who comes to the town to request an annexation, but he and other town officials are interested in what Hudson has to offer. ‘‘They haven’t even made it close to being intriguing so far," he said.

Some area residents said they are opposed to an annexation of the Myers’ farm regardless of what Hudson offers.

Town resident Cindy Radulovich said she did not want a Wal-mart in town. The chain is one of the companies that had expressed interest in building in Thurmont. She balked at the idea that having a big box store in town would provide more jobs for Thurmont residents.

‘‘People who work at Wal-mart can’t afford to buy homes here," Radulovich said. ‘‘...And, I can’t even get a kid to mow my lawn. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come when it comes to the teenage labor force."

Referendum could be difficult

While residents could overturn a resolution for annexation with a referendum, getting a petition for referendum together may prove easier said than done. In two of three scenarios, at least 20 percent of the registered voters in the town or in the area to be annexed must sign a petition for referendum.

Because a willing seller owns the area being considered for annexation in this case, town residents would have to arrange the petition.

There are currently 3,337 registered voters in Thurmont, according to Stuart Harvey of the Frederick County Board of Elections. That means residents opposing the annexation would have to get 668 signatures on the petition in order to bring the annexation to referendum. That number is not much lower than the 735 voters who went to the polls during the election in October.

Emmitsburg’s success

A group of Emmitsburg residents were able to successfully beat down an approved annexation through referendum votes twice in the past few years.

Current Emmitsburg commissioners Art Elder and Bill O’Neil were members of the group COPE, which fought the annexations.

They gave the following advice to Thurmont residents interested in bringing the Myers’ farm annexation to referendum, should that become necessary.

‘‘The No. 1 thing they need to do is to educate and inform," O’Neil said. ‘‘People need to know the Board of Education only uses statistics of 0.5 child per household. Usually, there are two to three children per household in these new developments."

In addition, O’Neil mentioned increased costs in taxes for educating more children, and for supplying social services such as roads, water and sewer to more residents.

‘‘Once you have some good statistics you put together a flier showing what will happen if the homes are built," he said. ‘‘...I hope they look into the future and see how building now will impact their children in the future."

Getting a petition for referendum together also takes a lot of organization and effort, Elder said.

‘‘It takes a lot of leg work and a lot of people to go around and get things signed," he said. ‘‘You only want to go to the people that vote."

Other possibilities

A third possibility for petitioning an annexation resolution to referendum is for two-thirds of Frederick County commissioners to vote in favor of a referendum.

Which voters participate in a referendum depends on who petitions the referendum. Residents who live outside the town’s municipal boundaries near the area being proposed for annexation would not be able to vote in the referendum, regardless of who submits a petition for referendum, according to the Maryland Municipal League.

If county officials or residents in the area to be annexed submit the petition, voters in the area to be annexed participate in the referendum. If town residents submit the petition, registered town voters participate.

If there is a petition from both the county and the town, both sets of voters have to approve the referendum in order for the annexation to go forward.

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