Frederick annexation of farmland disheartens civic group -- Gazette.Net







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The leader of a citizens group living near the 302.67-acre Keller property in Frederick County criticized the Frederick Board of Aldermen for its approval Thursday night of a proposal to build 750 homes on what is now open farmland.

Lesli Summerstay, one of the leaders of Citizens for Responsible Growth Along Yellow Springs Road, said in an email that she is disappointed with the annexation decision, but not surprised.

“While I had a tiny bit of hope, I had also been expecting it,” Summerstay said. “But nevertheless I am heartbroken.” The group has no plans to appeal the decision.

The aldermen voted 4-1 to approve the annexation of the Keller property, which sits at the intersection of Yellow Springs, Rocky Springs and Walter Martz roads.

The Keller Corp. plans to build 750 homes on the property, which has been zoned for agriculture. There is no date as to when construction will begin.

Earlier in the day, the Frederick Board of County Commissioners also voted 4-1 to approve the change in zoning from agriculture in the county to residential in the city to allow the building to move forward.

Without the county’s approval, the annexation could have moved forward, but the building of homes would not be allowed for a period of five years.

Commissioner David P. Gray (R) was the lone vote against the zoning change. Gray argued that road improvements need to be made in the area surrounding the Keller property before any development begins.

Alderman Michael O’Connor (D) had the same argument when he voted that evening against the annexation. O’Connor said until road improvements are made in the area to alleviate traffic congestion, he could not support it.

“I have real concerns about this annexation,” O’Connor said. “...That portion of the two-lane [Yellow Springs Road] is going to be crowded and dangerous, and a lot of people are going to live on it ... I cannot support the annexation now.”

Rand Weinberg, the Frederick attorney representing the Keller Corp., said several meetings have been held with residents to discuss their traffic and road concerns.

Weinberg said for construction to move forward, they will have to meet the requirements of the city’s Adequate Public Facilities ordinance, a growth-control policy that can stop construction if schools, roads, water and sewer are inadequate to meet the demands of a new development.

Summerstay said she was pleased by O’Connor’s comments and his vote.

“I hope that the message will get out loud and clear to city voters that they need to get new aldermen, (other than clear-thinking Mike O’Connor who asks the good questions and thinks about the future), who will look out for their interests their quality of life, the traffic problems on [U.S.] 15, and in the city, and who will look out for the tax burdens that these poor annexations and poorly planned developments that are not smart growth, will surely bring to their pocket books,” she wrote in the email.

The next city election will be held in 2013.

Janice Wiles, executive director of Friends of Frederick County, a land preservation group, said in an e-mail Friday that the city should not be approving the annexation based on the developer’s calculation that $500,000 a year in tax revenue would be generated from home sales. Wiles said the city should have conducted its own fiscal analysis to determine how much money would be generated.

“Getting the numbers right, and then weighing them together with the numerous other farm annexations for development in the works, is key to helping taxpayers know what we face down the road,” Wiles said.

O’Connor has said a fiscal study should be conducted.

The aldermen Thursday also unanimously approved the annexation of the Crum property, which sits west of U.S. 15, south of Sundays Lane and north of Willowbrook Road.

In 2009, the city annexed 285 acres of the Crum property from the county for the construction of 1,200 homes and a mix of businesses.

The applicant, Crum Farm Land LLC of Rockville, asked that the city annex an additional 252.76 acres that sits adjacent to the 285 acres annexed in 2009. However, the additional land is not slated for new homes, with the 1,200 homes now spread across both properties.

The commissioners earlier that day also approved the rezoning of the Crum property in a 4-1 vote.

Commissioner C. Paul Smith (R), who served as a city alderman in 2009 and voted for the Crum annexation, said having the homes spread out over additional land is an improvement.

“This will be much prettier,” he said. “...This is a very good thing.”

Although development of the property can proceed, only 350 to 450 homes can be constructed until a $60 million interchange is built at Biggs Ford Road and U.S. 15, under an agreement with the city and the developer.

The city and developer want the state of provide the funding, which it has not yet done.