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Neighborhood centers supported But one resident is skeptical


About half of the speakers at last night's public hearing on the Mount Airy comprehensive master plan enthusiastically supported the proposal for neighborhood centers that combine commercial and residential property.

But Mount Airy resident Norman Hammond told members of the town's planning and zoning commission they should disregard most of that testimony because most of the seven speakers represented developers or owned land that would benefit financially from a neighborhood center concept.

Nearly 45 people attended the hearing on the 120-page document that planning officials have been developing for about two years.

The town's last master plan was adopted in 1980.

"I am the first resident -- just plain resident -- that has spoken to you tonight," Mr. Hammond said, referring to comments made earlier by Westminster attorney Wesley D. Blakeslee, Wildwood Park owner Michael Berman, Mount Airy farmer William Knill and Ross Lillard of VanMar Associates, a Mount Airy planning firm.

Mr. Blakeslee, who represents Fred and Ethel Stevens, asked the commission to consider a neighborhood center on his clients' property on the eastern part of town.

Mr. Knill and his family farm about 550 acres, some of which is within Mount Airy.

Wildwood Park is a recently proposed senior housing community on Ridge Avenue, which would be part of a neighborhood center under the new master plan.

And Mr. Lillard asked the commission to consider zoning 1606 S. Main St. commercial rather than residential.

Mr. Hammond said the neighborhood center concept was unnecessary because most people could walk to the center of town, where he said businesses are dying because of competition from outlying shopping centers.

Neighborhood centers would draw away businesses and hasten the death of the town center, he said.

"You've eliminated two of the community centers which are near developments [in the proposed master plan], and we applaud that," he said.

"The other developments, as soon as they get there, will complain as well."

Planning commission members will accept written comments on the master plan for another 10 days, and will discuss the citizen suggestions at their next meeting.

If they approve the plan, it will be passed along to the Mount Airy Town Council, which will also have a public hearing before accepting or rejecting the plan.

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