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The town's latest -- and largest -- housing development isn't reallya new project at all.

For 10 years, the 266-acre Manchester Farmshas been making a slow transformation from cropland to single-familyhousing.

"We had to stop for a while," said the project's developer, Herbert W. Wessel, a Hampstead farmer who has owned the land since the 1960s. The first phase of the development -- consisting of 40 homes on about 40 acres -- was completed in 1990.

The delay was necessary toaccommodate the town's transformation to public water and sewer service, which will serve new homes.

The next phase is somewhat larger-- 300 homes on the remaining 220 acres.

Wessel presented conceptdrawings of what the new parts of the development will look like late last year, and the town Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed those plans Monday night.

The development would be clustered, which means that housing would be more dense than zoning allows in exchange for a greater amount of open space and parkland.

The land is zonedconservation and R-15,000, which means lot sizes must be at least 15,000 square feet unless special zoning provisions -- such as cluster development -- are made.

Lot sizes on the concept plan range from under 8,000 square feet to about 80,000 square feet.

Wessel, who has raised cattle and crops at his 300-acre Fairmount Farms in Hampstead since 1957, said the decision to develop Manchester Farms came about as the land became swallowed by nearby development.

"I'm a farmer, and I wanted to farm that land," Wessel said. "But I became completely surrounded by development. It was impossible to keep farming."

Wessel's project is embraced by town planning officials, who are eager to continue fostering development to help pay for the town's nearly completed $11 million sewage treatment plant expansion.

"We'rekind of excited about this," said Miriam DePalmer, the town's zoningadministrator. "He's trying to start some nice innovative ideas, andthe more projects we can do like this, the better."

Clustering isa goal the town is aiming toward in most of its new developments, DePalmer said. With homes closer together, sewage lines can be shorter,roadways can be less lengthy and maintenance is easier.

"By clustering, we felt we could design lots at a more reasonable price, we could provide about 70 acres of open space, and the development processwould be more efficient," Wessel said.

Wessel declined to say what kind of a price range he is looking at for the homes. But, should the average cost come to $100,000 -- reasonable in the Manchester area-- the development could generate more than $50,400 a year in property taxes for the town.

The project also would generate more than $810,000 in sewage hook-up fees.

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