Community group working against Cherry Hill project

Goal is to persuade board to reject development or reduce number of units

October 10, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

CHERRY HILL -- Residents of this rural community just a few miles outside Elkton are rallying their forces and plotting their strategy with hopes of halting, or at least trimming, one of the biggest residential development projects in the history of Cecil County.

Windsor Development Co. of Freehold, N.J., wants to build 749 housing units on a peach orchard surrounded by homes on 1- to 5-acre lots.

"This is like putting a little city in the middle of our community, and it doesn't fit," said Lindsie Carter, chairwoman of Cherry Hill Alliance for Responsible Growth and Expansion, which is opposed to the project.

She says the development, along with four smaller proposals by other companies, would more than double the community's population, from about 2,000 to more than 5,000. "We are not anti-growth," Carter said, "but that's too many."

She said the project would burden roads and schools, and change the rural character of the community.

The group is working to persuade the Cecil County Planning Commission to reject the project or reduce its size when the panel meets Oct. 18.

Eric Sennstrom, Cecil's director of planning and zoning, said he expects the Windsor proposal to be on the agenda at the next Planning Commission meeting. As of Friday afternoon, though, the company had not filed the necessary paperwork. He said the company has until noon Tuesday to file.

Albert A. Young, an attorney at the law firm of Brown, Brown & Brown in Bel Air, which represents the developer, said the project will be on the agenda.

"We are using this time to look for ways to address the concerns of citizens and still keep the project economically viable," he said.

He said that there will be changes in the plan, but that it is too soon to reveal them.

The company had once proposed building 978 residential units on the property.

During the community group's strategy planning session Wednesday night at the Elkton library, Carter told the 35 residents in attendance, "We don't want to go in there ranting and raving. We need to have facts and figures. We are educated people, and we need to present our information in an orderly fashion.

"I will speak about age-restricted housing. We need other people to talk about water and sewage and traffic," she said. "We need to try to keep the subjects in an orderly manner so, if they are listening, they will better understand us."

Carter said the community group has more than 600 signatures on a petition asking the county not to extend public water and sewer service to Cherry Hill in support of new development.

During the Wednesday meeting, residents earned the support of James Mullin, an Earleville resident who is running for one of the two openings on the county's Board of Commissioners. "I support you 110 percent," he told the gathering.

He said he thinks that the county made a mistake 11 years ago when it zoned the peach orchard for high-density housing and that it should be corrected.

The Planning Commission meeting is the first opportunity in the county's approval process for the public to voice its opinion on proposed projects.

Carter and other Cherry Hill residents were angry and frustrated last month when two scheduled Planning Commission meetings were canceled on short notice in the same week. When the meeting was held near the end of that week, the developer had pulled the Cherry Hill project from the agenda.

The residents felt that it was an attempt by the commission to muzzle their opposition. They argued that the cancellations and rescheduling of the meeting on short notice made it hard for working people to attend.

"I really felt that the Planning Commission was seeking to disenfranchise the people from the decision-making process," said Robert G. Fritz, a Cherry Hill resident.

The meetings were canceled when not enough members of the commission could attend to have a quorum needed to conduct business.

Phyllis Kilby, one of the county's five commissioners, called the cancellations an embarrassment and said it was not the way she wanted county government to operate.

Also last week, the commissioners rejected a plan designed to limit housing development and protect farmland.

The plan would have allowed one house per 20 acres in the county's northern agricultural district. The code currently allows for one house per 5 acres. In the southern agricultural district, housing density would have been reduced from one house per 8 acres to one per 30 acres. The two agricultural districts represent about 60 percent of the land in the county.

Some farmers, particularly those nearing retirement, feared that the change would rob them of the opportunity to sell their land to pay for their retirement. They also feared that it would reduce the value of their land.

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