Snow Hill residents say `yes' to expansion

584-82 vote to annex farmland clears way for 2,000 new homes in tiny Shore town

March 08, 2006|By CHRIS GUY | CHRIS GUY,SUN REPORTER

SNOW HILL -- Residents of this Eastern Shore town of 2,500 voted overwhelmingly yesterday to annex 1,000 acres of farmland, clearing the way for a development of more than 2,000 homes that could double or triple Snow Hill's population over the next decade.

The 584-82 vote, tallied within a half-hour after the polls closed, gave Mayor Stephen R. Mathews and the three-member Town Council the kind of decisive victory he said shows widespread support in the Worcester County seat for the unprecedented development at the southern end of town.

"This is a new day, a new era for Snow Hill," said Mathews, who spoke to a cheering crowd in announcing the outcome. "We can look ahead now and begin controlling our own future."

Just over 55 percent of the town's 1,204 registered voters came out on a warm and sunny day to cast ballots on two old-fashioned voting machines at Town Hall, the only polling place. A good turnout for most municipal elections is about 400 voters, said Town Manager Kelly Brewington.

Opponents, such as Jim McGinniss, co-chairman of Concerned Citizens of Worcester, gathered more than 300 signatures on petitions to force the referendum they hoped would overturn a Dec. 13 council vote to annex the property pieced together from 17 small farms by Ocean City developer Mark Odachowski.

"I'm astounded at the massive vote," said McGinniss. "People in Snow Hill are going to wind up paying more taxes, but it's the will of the people. It's what Snow Hill wants."

The project, known as Summerfield, would dwarf the 320-year-old Pocomoke River community, say critics, who remain skeptical that new residents would provide a boost to Snow Hill's ailing downtown business district.

The vote allows Odachowski to move ahead with a project that could add 5,000 or more residents over the next decade to a town that has had little or no growth for half a century.

Supporters, including the business community and town officials, mounted a well-financed campaign that distributed "Vote Yes for Annexation" signs all over Snow Hill.

Business leaders such as Larry Knudsen, who bought a riverfront bed-and-breakfast about 15 years ago, says Snow Hill's three-block business district will never rebound without growth.

Last night, residents decked out in green hats and Mardi Gras beads celebrated under streetlights that had been tinted green as music blared from speakers set up on two downtown street corners.

The developer has pledged to build a $12 million sewage treatment plant, along with a $3 million water tower.

Yesterday's vote clears the way for Odachowski's plan for a "neo-traditional" community, which now will be scrutinized by the town's planning commission.

It would feature homes with front porches, garages in the rear and a layout that eschews cul de sacs and connects neighborhoods. Summerfield was designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., a nationally known firm.

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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