Carroll County commissioners approved the selling of 169 acres of the Harrison-Leishear property in Mount Airy and will be retaining the remaining 85 acres of land for parkland.
The property, which totals some 225 acres and is located along Md. 27 and is 5 miles from I-70 outside of Mount Airy, was originally given in a deed to the county’s Industrial Development Agency more than a decade ago. After contested negotiations with citizens of the town of Mount Airy and residents that live near the property, specifically on Boteler road, and an attempt by the town to annex the land, the Industrial Development Agency decided to return the land to the county.
Jack Lyburn, director of the county’s department of economic development, requested that the commissioners designate the 169 acres of land as surplus property to allow a request for proposal to be sent to contractors.
Lyburn said the land had “really high visibility” and is “one of the best pieces we have in the county.”
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, who motioned for the Board of Commissioners to approve the selling of the land, expressed concern for the residents of Mount Airy.
“I want the public to know that whatever path is chosen there will be public hearings and input,” Bouchat said. “We’re not closing the doors on them, their voices and concerns will always be heard.”
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, also expressed a desire to work with Mount Airy residents.
“I don’t want to alienate them from the discussions of what we’re going to do,” Wantz said. “I just want to be clear that we’re merely taking the property back so that we can entertain those viable alternatives while working with Mount Airy.”
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, on the other hand stressed that the commissioners would be leading the decisions.
“Right, working with Mount Airy but us having control of it,” Dennis Frazier said in response to Wantz.
Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, seconded the motion and expressed a need for the property to be sold.
“This allows the county to go after potential opportunities to occupy the property and develop it with accordance of the way its zoned and we know of large developers that would like this property because of its location,” Rothstein said.
The vote to retain 85 acres and to seek requests for proposals and sell the remaining 169 acres was approved unanimously.
Residents living near Harrison-Leishear, specifically on Boteler Road which runs right behind the property, have expressed relief with the current decision and said prior negotiations involved the property being turned in commercial real estate. Now the 169 acres is slated for residential/agricultural development.
Diane Perney, an administrator of the Harrison-Leishear Annexation Citizen’s Discussion group on Facebook and a resident near the property, said residents near the property want the land to remain as residential zoning and believes anyone who does develop the land will have issues — such as water, but no sewage. Perney and other residents had been working against the annexation of the land for several months are happy with the apparent outcome.
Perney believes the town wanted to annex the land for the water and the 85 acres of parkland so the town could grow, but the attempt to build an employment campus or other commercial suggestions posed a risk to the water supply of those who lived near the property.
“They were going to build an industrial park and they called it an employment campus right behind our backyards and our wells are sort of shallow, like my well’s, only 40 feet. If you put a bunch of industrial people back here and then take thousands of gallons of water out of our aquifer. We were all afraid our water, our wells would dry,” Perney said.
Steve Trice, another resident near the property, also expressed concern for the wells and suggested the IDA develop the property further away from their homes.
“The amount of water that was going to potentially be drawn off, which was up to 200,000 gallons of water a day, could potentially negatively affect our well because a lot of our wells were really shallow and are very shallow,” Trice said. “So, you know, we reached out to the town about that and we wanted them to consider in the negotiations with the IDA a land swap where the northern end of the property would be the piece that was developed and the southern part of the property, which borders all of our homes, would be the parkland. And the town entertained that idea and they took that to the IDA and the IDA didn’t seem to be interested in that. For whatever reason.”
“We live at the bottom of the hill and any development back there would have kind of towered over our homes despite any type of firms or abatement or visual obstructions,” Trice said.
For now both Trice and Perney are satisfied with the county’s decisions as long as the property developed remains residential.
“We’re happy now until we find out that they are going to try to change it,” said Perney. “You always wait for the other shoe to drop. So we’re watching this now pretty carefully to see exactly what they’re going to try to put back here.”
Lyburn said a request for proposals would be sent out to contractors with a 5- to 6-week time frame after which his department would present to the commissioners.