Jobs at stake in land debate

Business seeks to expand, but key site lacks utilities

Frederick Co. also an option

Commissioners weigh a delicate decision

Union Bridge

December 15, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A trucking company wants to expand its Union Bridge operation and bring 125 more jobs to the western Carroll County town. Industrial land is available for the operation, but the 72-acre former farm lacks water and sewer lines.

The town is willing to extend its utility service to the property, if the owner applies for annexation and the developer pays for construction of the water and sewer lines. The owner wants to build a less costly private utility system as soon as possible but cannot without county approval.

So, the county risks losing a solid industrial prospect if it does not grant the company a waiver - or alienating the town by denying it property tax revenues that would result from annexation.

"It's a train wreck between common sense and the law," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday.

The commissioners asked for a one-week delay to review information before making their decision.

Although the land lies outside town limits, it falls within the municipal water and sewer priority service area and, thus, requires the commissioners' approval before a private system can be built.

The town is pushing for annexation of the industrial land, which is in accordance with its master plan, said Mayor Bret D. Grossnickle.

The land, owned by brothers David and Sam Lease, was rezoned from agricultural to industrial about 15 years ago in the hope of attracting business and industrial tax dollars to the town, Grossnickle said. The brothers have a chance to sell 10 acres of their farm to Hahn Transportation Inc., a New Market-based company that could become the anchor tenant in an industrial park on the site.

"This is the best industrial land we have going," Grossnickle said. "Essentially, we are making enemies fighting over this land. We don't want to lose Hahn, but we don't want a 72-acre industrial park on our border without any of the benefits. We would have all the evils and none of the good."

Project details

Hahn must soon vacate the space it leases from the Lehigh Cement Co. It also needs more space because the company is growing. Hahn officials have said they are considering the Lease farm and another site in Frederick County, and will decide next year.

The Carroll County Health Department has inspected the Lease property and found it suitable for a private water and sewer system. The developer could build the systems and seal them off when the property is annexed and public utilities become available, said Larry L. Leitch, Health Department director.

The company will have no incentive to request annexation if it has a private system, Grossnickle said.

"At this point, we are looking to make sure the Hahn project can go ahead," said Jack Gullo, attorney for the Leases. "We need an exemption today. We realize that as the town grows, this property will be part of it and the town will benefit. Don't stymie industrial development."

The town has undertaken a feasibility study to determine how it can extend the lines, but it has no money to pay for the construction. Those costs typically are paid by the developer.

"Union Bridge has the water and sewer capacity for a project of this magnitude, and the developer should pay the total costs of construction," said John Maguire, the town attorney. "You cannot allow a private system where a public facility is available."

The wrangling could derail the deal and send Hahn to Frederick County, said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr., a former Union Bridge mayor.

Jones, a longtime friend of the Lease brothers, recused himself from the vote but urged his colleagues to consider the potential of creating 125 jobs.

Gullo added, "This is a major economic development opportunity, an anchor tenant for this industrial park that will allow a critical mass of other tenants to move in. We are holding up their progress."

Gullo compared the impasse to "coveting your neighbors' property and wanting that neighbor to pay for improvements that benefit you."

The commissioners could issue temporary permits and make them contingent on the company annexing and hooking into the municipal systems, said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

"This way we would get the benefit of industrial development rather than see it go to Frederick County," Gouge said.

`Want to be part of it'

The town already copes with noise, dust and traffic from the Lehigh plant, which years ago refused to be annexed into town and pay town taxes, said Maguire.

"We want to avoid that situation in the future," he said. "The town should not have to put up with issues for facilities that are not in town and not paying taxes."

James Schumacher, a consultant for the town, said, "We wish success for everybody in this endeavor and we want to be part of it. Our feasibility study will show the best way to get lines out there. The pieces are falling into place."

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