Mount Airy residents who live near a site being considered by the town for annexation and likely future development are voicing concerns about the proposal.
Plans to annex an 258-acre area of land, bounded by Md. 27 and Leishear and Boteler roads, is causing alarm for residents in the vicinity who believe the proposal — and any subsequent development — will only disrupt their way of life.
“Mount Airy is a small rural bedroom community, and the citizens that I’ve spoken to don’t want any more kind of growth,” said Steve Trice, a Mount Airy resident who lives on Boteler Road. He plans to relay the community’s concerns during the Aug. 31 meeting of the Mount Airy Planning Commission.
The large area of land, known as the Harrison-Leishear property, was acquired by Carroll County in 2009 and has been the subject of back-and-forth talks with Mount Airy Town Council members in the years since.
Trice said in an interview he’s approached the council several times through the years inquiring about the property, but hadn’t heard anything until recently when he spoke to council member Karl Munder.
“I became interested, and I talked to Munder on the phone and I got to know pieces of information. Then I just started to say to myself, ’You know, I need to get my neighbors involved here because this is really going to be impactful to us if what is proposed happens,” Trice said. “So I knocked on their doors and got their email addresses and introduced myself. That’s how it all started.”
In August, the Mount Airy Town Council received a tentative annexation agreement that discussed ways in which the property could be divided up.
According to Munder, if the property is annexed, it would be divided into three different areas: 128 acres would be reserved for an office employment campus, 85 acres would be given to the town as parkland that would be later developed and 45 acres would be reserved for future development.
Trice said he’s worried about a 128-acre employment campus being reserved for the southern side of the property because that is where residential homes are located. He said the future development could bring major light and noise pollution to the area, along with potential traffic issues that are already of concern to residents in the nearby community.
“The way the proposal exists today, an 80-plus-acre business park is proposed to be directly behind and attached to the properties along Boteler Road. We would urge the town to consider swapping the proposed business park location with the proposed parkland location slated for the northern portion of the property,” Trice says in a written draft that he plans to share on Monday with the planning commission.
Mount Airy Mayor Patrick Rockinberg told the Times he would strongly push for the parkland piece of property to be planned alongside the Boteler Road residential homes instead.
“If you have a more passive piece of property, that should be the piece of property that borders them. You should add screening, berms and anything else that would protect the quality of life for those people who lived there,” he said. “Naturally everyone would prefer the property next to them to stay a farm, but if you don’t own the property it’s difficult.”
Roxanne Hemphill, Mount Airy Planning Commission chair, had also previously stated that potential traffic could be an issue for people who live near the property.
“The main concern is definitely going to be traffic,” she said. “We don’t have control over the traffic on Route 27 since it’s a state road, and the state hasn’t recognized that it’s an issue, so that may be concerning.”
In addition to providing a future employment campus that town officials say will possibly attract larger companies in the area, officials also contend that the property could add a water source, which would be beneficial to the town and any future development.
Tests on four wells on the property were conducted and were found to produce nearly 200,000 gallons of water per day, officials say.
Trice said the potential water benefits aren’t enough to justify the future development that could result from the annexation.
“What we’re starting to get a sense of what’s really going on here is that the county is dangling the potential water acquisition from the property in front of the town in order to get them to annex the property,” he said. “We’re really questioning whether the town really needs the water to satisfy its current situation and why all other alternatives, while might be expensive, aren’t a better route.”
According to Rockinberg, though, the county could still develop the 258-acre property on its own regardless of whether the town annexes it.
Rockinberg said the county doesn’t need Mount Airy to annex the property in order to acquire water.
“They already have the water. They don’t need it and they may not need the town for sewer either. If we tell them no, it’s very possible they can create their own sewer system.” he said. “Based on what I’m hearing from the town engineer, they could put in their own septic system and develop without us.”
Trice said that if development happens regardless, he and other residents want assurance that their residential wells will be protected from work being done on the property and that they will be protected from potential stormwater runoff.
“We want legal assurances that any development on the [Harrison-Leishear] property does not cause or exacerbate water problems. Part of that is an assurance that a retention pond not be built anywhere near our properties,” Trice said in an email.
Rockinberg said he and the town will do everything they can to make sure residents’ needs are met and their concerns are addressed.
“I can certainly sympathize with everybody over there. Nobody wants anything to be developed next to them, but you are limited as to what you can stop next to you if it’s not yours,” he said. “However, we will ensure those people’s properties and quality of life are protected as much as possible because we take that very seriously.”