Carroll commissioners are unlikely to back annexation by Westminster

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carroll County commissioners said yesterday they probably would not support Westminster's plans to annex about 146 acres for a new housing development because adding up to 300 homes would drain resources and bring increased traffic to a mostly rural area.

The commissioners said that annexing the unincorporated area of the county into Westminster hinged on a questionable assumption - that a single connecting road was enough to declare the property contiguous to the city limits.

"We're talking about a significant increase in the density of the city of Westminster without being contiguous to the city of Westminster," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said. "It's a surgical strike without touching the people on the county's side of the annexation. It's a crafty little strategy by whoever thought of it, and I object to it here, on the record."

Before the property can be annexed, commissioners have to approve the plan.

Westminster planning officials introduced the proposal for annexing the Hoff/Naganna property in September, but plans for the development have dragged since mid-2002.

The developers of the property, just outside the southeast city limits, asked the city for annexation to gain access to water and sewer lines. Future homeowners would also be entitled to other city resources such as police and fire protection, as well as trash pickup.

Westminster will provide those services only to properties within city limits or to those the city approves for annexation. The minimum requirement for an annexation is that the property be contiguous to city limits.

That's where the problem begins, county officials said.

"This annexation will look a lot like a lollipop," Steven D. Powell, county chief of staff, told the commissioners.

Powell was referring to the fact that the only thing connecting the development area to Westminster is a single street, Willow Avenue.

The proposed development is bordered by Old Westminster Pike to the north, Mark Drive to the west, Poole Road to the south and Woodside Drive to the east.

A public hearing on the annexation is scheduled for Monday night. Momentum has been building among county residents to oppose the development.

"The city is bulldozing through," said county resident Michelle Jefferson, who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the proposed development. "There are way too many subdivisions that will be affected by this."

She gave commissioners a copy of a petition that she and more than 270 other residents have signed, opposing the annexation.

"I don't know how much can be preserved at this point. I know there's going to be growth, but 300 homes is too many to stick in there," said John Everett, a county resident who has lived on Willow Avenue with his wife for a decade. "Maybe we could live with half that amount, but still you end up with traffic, school and water problems."

He worried about the addition of up to 600 cars - two per household - because there are too many commuters using side streets like his, he said.

Everett also wondered how nearby schools at or near capacity could accommodate the influx of children from such a development.

Westminster's planning staff maintains that the city can absorb the demand on its water resources and emergency services.

City officials estimate that up to $275,000 a year could be generated in tax revenues on the proposed development.

In meetings with Westminster's Planning and Zoning Commission, city planners said the developer was willing to pay $1.5 million to help offset the project's effect on water and sewer facilities. In planning documents, the money is called a capital utility improvements contribution.

After the public hearing, city council members will set a date to discuss the proposal and consider its adoption.

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