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Carroll commissioners approve annexation of Harrison-Leishear property to Mount Airy

Carroll County commissioners last week approved the annexation of the Harrison-Leishear property to the Town of Mount Airy after several months of considering alternate development proposals.

The property, bounded by Md. Route 27 and Boteler Road, was acquired by the county in 2009. In a memorandum of understanding, Carroll bequeathed the property to the Industrial Development Authority under the condition that the property be developed within 10 years or be transferred back to the county. The property includes 85 acres of parkland for future development and another 45 acres blocked off for development. The remaining 128 acres has low-density residential and conservation zoning designations.

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The plan was to annex the property to Mount Airy but after 10 years of discussions, the IDA decided early this year to withdraw and transferred the 258-acre plot back to the county.

After issuing a request for proposals during the summer for the sale/development of a 170-acre portion of the Harrison-Leishear property, Carroll County received two: one that is exclusively residential and another that would include residential, flex and commercial space.

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Jim Frey of Frall Developers proposed a development with about 550 senior living housing units on the site. Ed St. John of St. John Properties proposed a mixed-use plan, with roughly eight flex buildings, 19 industrial lots and some retail space. In addition, St. John proposed 180 town houses, 147 single homes and 11 family estates adjacent to current housing.

At a Nov. 29 community meeting between county commissioners and Mount Airy town officials, discussion turned to returning the deeds to the IDA instead, allowing annexation of the property.

“For 10 years we’ve been paying attorney fees for this [annexation] to occur and we’ve been paying our staff to go out there and get the job done,” Mount Airy Mayor Larry Hushour said at the meeting. “We were never told about the 10-year escape clause … We didn’t know the IDA could walk away from the deal and turn the deeds back over to the county.”

He said the Harrison-Leishear property is significant to the town because it needs open space and parkland to develop other parts of Mount Airy.

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At a county meeting in December, Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said he believes the best path moving forward is for the town to annex the property, rather than commissioners accepting one of the two proposals.

Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, asked why the board wouldn’t proceed with the annexation.

“Nobody knows Mount Airy better than Mount Airy [residents],” he said.

After commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, asked the town to be flexible with the property’s use in the future, Hushour said he would be “open to what needs to occur to get it annexed into the town and placed under the town’s appropriate zoning.”

Diane Perney, a resident of Boetler Road, which is adjacent to the property, expressed concern about the heavy development planned in the two proposals.

Perney said she opposed the senior housing proposal because it would “become a city itself” and change the feel of the neighborhood.

“There is an aquifer underneath the land and if you put that many homes in we are going to run out of water,” she said.

She also opposes the annexation.

“I don’t mind having neighbors … but we are fearful that whatever is put back there will deplete or pollute our water.”

Perney said she and other residents in her neighborhood are not against new homes on the property as long as it remains zoned R-40,000, which allows one house per acre.

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