Officials in Manchester consider shot at being town in `Blair Witch' sequel

Film council casts net for interested locales

March 16, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

If Burkittsville doesn't want the sequel to "The Blair Witch Project," Manchester might.

Manchester Town Councilwoman Mary Minderlein made the suggestion Tuesday night, near the end of a routine meeting.

The Frederick County town that was the locale for last summer's surprise hit movie sent producers packing last month at the prospect of being the location for the sequel, she noted, "so the Maryland film council is looking for another town. They want to hear from Maryland towns."

"I had the idea that Manchester would be a good place, maybe, to have the movie, and we should put our hat in the ring, so to speak," she said.

"I think it would be positive for the town, bring in extra business."

Silence fell in the room, for several long beats.

"Wow," Mayor Chris D'Amario said softly, breaking the silence.

Then everyone began to talk, with jokes and comments flying.

"We could be extras," someone said. "And we have restaurants," another added, getting into the movie-locale mode.

"We're better-looking than Burkittsville, without revitalization," said Councilman Brooks Rugemer, referring to an earlier agenda item.

"It's a great idea -- till you banned all the parking in town," he said, referring to another agenda item: a discussion about the wording of a Town Code provision that prohibits on-street parking in most of the town.

"See if they'll build us a bypass: We'll call it the Blair Witch Bypass," someone suggested.

"Make the call," another said.

Although no vote was taken, that was the unofficial consensus. If chosen, Minderlein said, Manchester's name wouldn't be used.

Burkittsville, a town of about 200, became a magnet for film fans from all over the country after "The Blair Witch Project" became the sleeper hit of the summer. The mock documentary told a story of the disappearance of three film students on the track of the Blair Witch, supposed to have killed children in the forest near South Mountain.

The town's welcome signs and its cemetery became targets of visitors -- many of whom thought the myth was true -- and many residents refused to even discuss it with the flocks of reporters who followed the fans.

But the filmmakers said they will produce not only a sequel, but a Part Three as well.

Road improvements surface

In less trendy business, Manchester's council heard an update on a Neighborhood Conservation Task Force, a group of residents and business people working with the State Highway Administration to improve Main Street.

Councilman Daniel Riley, who toured the town with SHA officials, said a helicopter would fly over the town next week to take aerial photographs for the project.

"These people from the State Highways Administration are a fine group of people to work with," Riley said. "Their goal is to do what the citizens of Manchester want to do in their Main Street area."

D'Amario said he wanted to make it clear, "This has nothing to do with a bypass," referring to the plans to get traffic off Route 30 -- Manchester's Main Street. The bypass, like others, was killed as an item contrary to the governor's Smart Growth initiative to curb suburban sprawl.

Zoning issue raised

Also, Gary LaMotte of Hampstead formally asked the council to rezone about 33 acres in the southeast quadrant of town, restoring the land's original zoning from before he bought it last year. The change would allow development of houses on quarter-acre rather than 1-acre lots and was referred to the town's planning and zoning commission.

Minderlein, the newest Town Council member, also raised a question about the availability of elected officials.

While enough interest might not exist to justify the officials working weekends, because most work full time, she suggested and the mayor and council agreed to arrive early for council meetings four times a year.

In the same vein, Councilman Joe Jordan suggested they hear residents' comments early in the meetings -- perhaps interrupting council business at 8 p.m. -- rather than toward the end.

That would "avoid having those who want to speak sitting here through two hours of a boring meeting to say their two minutes," he said, noting sometimes the council has voted before a resident gets a chance to speak.

Minderlein suggested the council do both because some people don't want to make a public statement at a microphone.

The council decided to arrive a half hour before meetings to be available to residents beginning May 9 and then again quarterly.

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