APPLETON - Residents of this rural crossroads community in the northeast corner of the state are expected to turn out in force at a public hearing Tuesday evening to oppose a proposed housing development in their neighborhood, which they argue could affect the entire county.
Aston Development Group Inc. of Newark, Del., wants to build 300 single-family homes and a golf course at Telegraph Road (Route 273) and Appleton Road (Route 316). It would be called Aston Pointe.
The new golf course is designed to lure the 83-year-old Newark Country Club across the border to a site featuring a larger course and modern facilities. But there's a hitch in the plan.
To develop the property the way he wants, William R. Spritzinger, president of Aston, needs Cecil County to grant him an amendment to its recently approved master water and sewer plan, a change that would provide public sewerage to the property and allow him to drill wells to supply a new water plant.
The approval of such an amendment by the county commissioners would set a precedent and allow any landowner in the county to ask for the same treatment, argues Owen Thorne, chairman of the Appleton Regional Community Alliance.
"If someone wanted to build 40 houses on their 20 acres, anywhere in the county, the commissioners wouldn't be able to say no," said Thorne. "Every other landowner would be able to say, 'You gave Billy Spritzinger his amendment. Give me mine or I will sue.'"
If Spritzinger gets his way, Thorne added, it would be impossible for the county to deny a similar amendment to a New Jersey company that wants to build 749 homes on a 146-acre site near Cherry Hill.
The proposed Aston Pointe development and its potential for altering the character of a county that prides itself on its agricultural heritage has citizens alarmed.
Tuesday's public meeting on the project was moved to Cecil Community College to accommodate the anticipated turnout.
A hearing on the proposal last summer attracted between 300 and 500 people.
"That's a lot of people in this county," said Nelson K. Bolender, president of the Board of County Commissioners. He said he anticipates as many people at Tuesday's hearing.
Commissioners to vote
After the hearing, the five commissioners are scheduled to vote on whether to grant Aston Development the amendment it seeks. The outcome of the vote is uncertain.
"We just updated the master water and sewer plan," said Commissioner Phyllis Kilby. "I'm opposed to granting any amendment so soon."
Kilby expressed concern that extending sewerage to the Aston Pointe project would open the entire corridor bordered by Telegraph, Appleton and Fletchwood roads and the Delaware border, to development. This is an area of about 10 square miles.
Kilby also expressed concern about increased traffic. "Ride on Appleton Road," she said, "it's like so many other country roads. How much more traffic can it take? The developer says it can widen the road, but there are a lot of older houses along the road and that would take away their front yards. This is not a good place for development."
She fears that approval of Aston Pointe would open the region to the kind of high-density development seen across the border in Newark.
Commissioner William C. Manlove also is opposed to Aston Pointe. "I'm opposed to starting a new town out in the middle of nowhere," he said.
Commissioner Harry A. Hepbron says he will vote for the amendment.
"In my opinion," he said, "the guy has a legal right to develop the property. The land is zoned for suburban residential."
He added: "I know the citizens don't want this in their back yards, but I think this will be good for the citizens and the county. The guy [Spritzinger] has put up money to upgrade the sewage systems. As I understand it, he will build a water plant and turn it over to the county. I see it as a win-win."
The two remaining commissioners, Bolender and Mark K. Guns, will decide the project's fate. Both were undecided about the matter last week.
"I see the pros and cons of the issue," said Bolender. He said he was leaning toward approval of Aston Pointe if he could be assured that it would not open the entire corridor to new development.
Bolender also expressed concern that adding 300 new homes would put an added burden on the region's already crowded school.
"I will be trying to determine the impact on schools before I vote," he said.
"I need more information before making up my mind," said Guns. "I want to read the minutes of past meetings."
On July 13, the commissioners voted to adopt the county's new master water and sewage plan. On the same day they rejected Aston Development's earlier request for an amendment to that plan by a 4-1 vote. Only Hepbron voted for the amendment.
Resident Ed Cairns thinks the commissioners acted responsibly then and hopes they reject the company's newest request, in which it says it would supply its own water for the development.
'Open the floodgates'
Cairns has lived on Jackson Hall School Road, about a half-mile from the proposed Aston Pointe development, for 42 years. "Approving this amendment," he said, "would open the floodgates for development throughout the county. I'm very concerned about the precedent this would set."
He said the development would increase the traffic on small county roads and pack more students into crowded schools.
He also fears that additional services would lead to higher taxes.
"We are not opposed to the development of the property," said Thorne, "but don't change the law so that the developer can do it his way."
He said the zoning code allows for the development of the land through the use of wells and septic systems.
"But my guess is they don't want to do it that way because it would reduce the number of homes on the property," said Thorne.
Thorne said community residents also had concerns about the private golf course. He said there is no guarantee that if the golf course is not a financial success that it will stay a golf course.
"They could come back and build more houses on this land," he said.
He said the community also is concerned about the developer's plan to draw water from wells and then put it into a sewer system that flows into a waste treatment plant about four miles away.
"There's no proof, no evidence for belief by geologists that there is enough water to do what he wants to do," said Thorne. "Wells in the area will go dry."
Spritzinger did not return calls for comment.