The Carroll County commissioners will allow interim private water and sewer systems to be installed at an industrial development near Union Bridge, but only if the owner seeks annexation of the property into the town.
"We are granting permission, contingent on application for annexation," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday. "The owner also must agree to hook into the town systems when those become available."
Those contingencies could prove too costly for David and Sam Lease, who are trying to sell 10 acres of their 90-acre farm to Hahn Transportation Inc. In addition to town property taxes, annexation could require the Leases to pay about $1 million to run public water and sewer lines to the property.
"With the conditions placed upon him and the costs, it is highly unlikely my client will proceed," said Jack A. Gullo Jr., attorney for Sam Lease. "The town wants an open-ended checkbook from Mr. Lease with no estimates as to how much this will all cost. This is too much for my client to bear."
The New Market-based trucking company has considered relocating its operations to western Carroll County, where it would become the anchor tenant in a 72-acre industrial park that is now the Leases' farm. The move would bring 125 jobs to the county.
"We are disappointed by this and by the economic loss to the community," Gullo said. "This is a real downer for economic development in this area."
Since the Lease farm falls within the municipal water and sewer priority service area, the commissioners' approval is required before a private system can be built.
Union Bridge Mayor Bret D. Grossnickle said the town did not oppose interim utility systems, but it insisted that the property be part of the town, paying municipal taxes.
The town is willing to work with the Leases on "what is the best industrial property we have going," Grossnickle said. The town has enough capacity in its utility systems and would eventually extend service to the property, but that typically comes at the expense of the developer.
"We want industrial development, but with town water and sewer and a storm water management program," Grossnickle said. "I hate to see Carroll County lose jobs. I don't think people will lose jobs, but they will have to travel to Frederick County to get to them. Hopefully, we can work this out."
The commissioners had deferred a decision on the issue for several weeks to review both sides. The county risked losing a solid industrial prospect if it did not grant the company a waiver for the private systems or risked alienating the town by denying it property tax revenues that would result from annexation.
Minnich had previously called the situation "a train wreck between common sense and the law." He said yesterday that the board had "put in the groundwork that will allow common sense to happen here." He urged the parties to "work something out."
That might not be possible now, Gullo said.
"The commissioners have linked the permit to something unrelated to the health and safety of the community," Gullo said. "My client has taken as many steps as he can to utilize the property as it is zoned."
Most of the farm - 72 of its 90 acres - is zoned industrial. Since the 10-acre parcel that the trucking company is considering is not contiguous to the town, the annexation would likely involve all the industrial land.
"This is fundamentally unfair," Gullo said. "Here you have industrially zoned land, a buyer who wanted it and a perk test that showed it was suitable for private water. Then the commissioners attach an onerous requirement."
The commissioners had no choice, Minnich said.
"We cannot compromise standards or ethics," he said. "We have to make public policy. If we just granted a waiver, we would open the door to lawsuits."
Rather than accede to the town's demands, Lease probably will continue farming the land and might discontinue negotiations with Hahn, Gullo said.
"Union Bridge has killed this deal because it is not within town limits," Gullo said. "The town will be affected by the loss of this economic development."
Gullo said he would research available legal remedies to the commissioners' action. He and Lease will also evaluate the decision, but an appeal seems unlikely, Gullo said.