Westminster council vows to work with county on annexation options

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Responding to more than 100 residents who filled City Hall about a potential development that they said could clog major traffic arteries, deplete limited water resources and overwhelm nearby schools, Westminster council members said annexing the property into the city is up in the air.

"This is a question of resources, not zoning," council President Damian L. Halstad told the developers and investors who want the city to annex the 146-acre Hoff/Naganna property, which lies just outside city limits to the southeast of Westminster. "The reason you want into the city is for the water and sewer we offer."

Council members said they would work with county officials to discuss options for a possible annexation. The city will also accept written comments from the public until March 7.

The council must approve the annexation.

Although city planning officials have said that up to 300 single-family homes could eventually be built in the development, developers have said that they do not have any concrete plans yet.

Citizens packed the main council chamber and spilled over into the nearby hallway and staircase to protest the planned development at the three-hour public hearing.

More than 371 residents also signed a petition that was given to the mayor and council. Residents were concerned that the development could bring up to 600 cars to the rural area and that the influx of new homeowners would create a severe demand on Westminster's police force, volunteer fire company, schools, water and sewer resources.

"If we don't want something in our back yard, we have the right to stand up and say no," said Michelle Jefferson, a county resident who lives near the property. "Money is not the bottom line. We are the ones who are going to lose. ... I don't want so much change that it disrupts and destroys my quality of life."

The developers said they asked the city for annexation to gain access to water and sewer lines. The sole road that connects the city to the property is Willow Avenue.

The minimum requirement for an annexation is that the property be contiguous to city limits. County officials are also questioning whether the street is city property.

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.

Westminster has an ordinance that allows for only 50 new houses to be built in a subdivision in a given year.

Westminster planning officials introduced the proposal for annexing the Hoff/Naganna property in September, but plans for the development have been in a holding pattern for more than two years.

Mike Preston, the attorney representing the property's owners, Naganawest LLC, said his clients and representatives from Diversified Investment Properties LLC have been talking to city planning and zoning officials since March 2002.

"Any future development is speculative and subject to review before the planning commission, your staff and the oversight of this council," Preston told council members.

Louis Siegel, representing Diversified Investment, said the potential tax revenue the project could bring to the city would far exceed others of a similar size. He said the housing units would equal 12.1 percent of the city's tax revenue by the time it was completed - an estimated $800,000.

Some of Siegel's comments seemed to confirm the fears of county residents who did not want to be annexed into the city because it could increase their property taxes.

"The intent of these ordinances is to encourage properties that are in the county to be compelled to come into the city to get services," he said.

At Monday's meeting, Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich told the mayor and council that the county wanted to work with the city in finding a resolution to the issue.

"We're better off if we slowed things down to come to a meeting of the minds between the cities and the counties on how to manage growth between us," said Minnich, who received applause after his comments.

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

Residents spoke for the last hour of the meeting, with most agreeing that they could live with development on a smaller scale.

"If you're going to impact on my life, personal safety, protection from fire and crime and juvenile delinquents, I ask you to minimize that to just one house per acre," said Michael Good.

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