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Water worries stop Stonewall Acres rezoning

(10/9) Though designated for medium-density residential housing in Thurmont's master plan, Stonewall Acres failed to get the zoning to go with that designation from the Thurmont Commissioners on Sept. 26. The reasoning seemed to be not because of anything Stonewall Acres' developer had done but because of what the Pleasant Acres' developer didn't do.

Commissioner Glenn Muth told the developer Andy Mackintosh, "We got burned pretty bad on Pleasant Acres."

Andy Mackintosh purchased the 23.51-acre parcel four years ago. About three acres was already zoned for residential construction and the entire property sits west of Pleasant Acres, which is a relatively new subdivision of residential homes. To match the medium-density residential comprehensive plan designation, Mackintosh sought to have the remaining 20.46 acres rezoned from agriculture to residential.

Mackintosh Realtors plans to build 67 homes on the property with lots averaging 10,210 square feet. Many of the two-story homes will have brick facing, garages and porches. The houses will contain 2,200 to 3,000 square feet of living space and cost about $500,000 each.

While the planning and zoning commission agreed that the zoning was consistent with the town's master plan, it rejected recommending the property be rezoned earlier this year. They said it did not meet the criteria to be rezoned at a time other than during comprehensive rezoning.

The development of the Pleasant Acres subdivision was presented as evidence of a significant change of the character of the neighborhood since it was constructed since the last Thurmont comprehensive rezoning. Before Pleasant Acres' construction, the area consisted of small farms and limited residential homes.

Mackintosh pointed out that there are 78 people on a waiting list for the final phase of development for Pleasant Acres (15-20 homes).

While Pleasant Acres supported Stonewall Acres' case for development, it also raised doubt among the commissioners and residents about Stonewall Acres because of the way Pleasant Acres was developed.

Inadequate stormwater management for the subdivision has added to the existing water problems residents already faced. This experience with Pleasant Acres led many residents to believe that Stonewall Acres would only compound the problem.

"We have heard loud and clear there are some water problems," David Lingg, a landscape engineer with Loiederman Soltesz Associates.

He agreed that the stormwater management for Pleasant Acres was inadequate. He said that Stonewall Acres would not only address its own stormwater management issues but could help alleviate some of the problems created by Pleasant Acres.

Commissioner Bill Blakeslee said, "The Pleasant Acres engineer said it would be better than it was before, too."

Planning and zoning commission member John Kinnaird told the commissioners that not only was Stonewall Acres willing to help fix something that wasn't its problem, but the development would allow the town to push off considering annexing property and still maintain revenue from growth.

If and when Stonewall Acres begins construction, the revenue to the town from water and sewer taps, property taxes and a proffer of additional money per lot is expected to be about $1.2 million over the three years of construction. However, the proffer of $3,000 additional per lot may not be offered if the property is rezoned during the comprehensive rezoning.

"This property could generate about $1¼ million in addition to the infrastructure improvements we would be doing," Lingg said.

Planning and zoning commission chairman John Ford said the developer's promises were nice but there was no guarantee that the developer wouldn't turn around and sell the property to someone else after he had received the rezoning.

'I think legally you would like to get some sort of binding agreement with the applicant," Ford said.

Mackintosh said he would be willing to enter into an agreement that would bind him to what he promised the town.

In the end, the commissioners voted 3-1 to deny the request with Commissioner Ron Terpko voting for it. Though Mayor Martin Burns did not vote, he said he couldn't support it until the water issues were dealt with.

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