Town planning and zoning officials say the proposed annexation of 21.7 acres of agriculturally zoned land off Shiloh Road would set a harmful precedent by allowing denser development on land the county had set aside for farming.

The four commission members delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to recommend the plan to the Town Council, which would make the decision. Members said they wanted additional details from county planners and the developer, such as the reason for a difference between town and county agricultural zones. No deadline wasset for a decision.

Mayor C. Clinton Becker, though he won't have a vote in the matter, said he hoped the commission and council would deny the annexationrequest.

"I don't want to set a precedent for agricultural land coming into the town . . . and developed at three to five times the density that's allowed by the county," Becker said.

The plan for thedevelopment of 30 houses on the land, owned by Thomas A. Matthews ofWestminster, is still in its early stages, said Matthews' lawyer, John T. Maguire II of Westminster.

But commission members were wary,with former Hampstead Mayor Oden Kemp the most vocal among them.

"I have never been in favor of bringing county agricultural areas into the town," said Kemp, who added that he preferred to preserve them for farming.

Annexation by the town would not change the agricultural zoning designation, but town zoning ordinances would allow denserdevelopment.

If the tract is not annexed, Matthews can build onlyseven houses, Maguire said. If the town annexes the property, Hampstead's zoning ordinance would allow 30 houses.

Town zoning allows one house per 20,000 square feet, while county zoning allows one per 40,000, after subtracting for open space and buffers for wells and sensitive areas.

Matthews' plan includes almost two acres of open space.

Scott Fischer, a county planner who works with the town, said the discrepancy between town and county agricultural zoning dates to 1978, when the county ordinances were tightened to reduce the densityof homes on agricultural land, thereby protecting it from overdevelopment.

Towns that had little agriculturally zoned land didn't bother changing their ordinances, he said, probably because it wasn't worth hindering the few landowners affected.

Fischer said he had "deep reservations" about the annexation request because of the county's master plan to preserve such land for farming. Also, he said, the town and county plans for expanding water and sewer service don't include that property. Although Fischer does not vote, he advises the commission.

Matthews is asking to have the development hooked into townwater but with private septic systems. Maguire said Matthews would pay the town to maintain an extra well on the adjacent 127-acre Widerman development, with a proposed 287 homes.

Maguire said the Matthews land would solve a traffic access problem for the Widerman property by allowing a proposed road on the Widerman development to extend to Shiloh Road.

Without that access, the Widerman developers will have to find another way to get around the state's planned Route 30 bypass.

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