Mount Airy election attracts record turnout


Mount Airy voters turned out in record numbers yesterday to elect a new mayor and two council members and determine by referendum whether a 152-acre farm where a developer plans to build 275 homes will be annexed to the town.

More than 1,900 of the town's 4,900 registered voters cast ballots, the largest turnout for a municipal election in the town's recent history, officials said - so many that the hand-counting of paper ballots was continuing late last night, and results were not known.

Almost 1,100 voters cast ballots in 2002, said B.J. Dixon, Mount Airy's town clerk. Two years ago, just under 200 people voted in an uncontested Town Council election.

"Obviously the people that are coming out are very passionate about these issues, no matter what side they are on," Dixon said.

This year's turnout was fueled by a polarizing debate about annexing the property known as the Zeltman Farm and larger questions on how to manage growth in the town that straddles the Carroll-Frederick county line.

Opponents of the annexation collected about 1,800 valid signatures on a referendum petition to get the issue on yesterday's ballot after the Town Council voted in February to annex the farmland.

With persistent water shortages, petitioners said, Mount Airy lacked the resources to support new development that could alter its small-town, rural character.

Mayoral candidate Keith Gehle voted for annexing the Zeltman Farm as a member of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.

The other two mayoral candidates, Frank Johnson and Dick Swanson, opposed annexation. Johnson and Swanson said the town needed to focus on more commercial rather than residential development.

Town Council candidates Chris DeColli, the only incumbent, and Jay Neuman supported annexation. The other two council candidates, John Woodhull and Gary Nelson, campaigned against it on a slate with Johnson.

Outside Mount Airy's polling station, at the Firemans Activity Building on Twin Arch Road, supporters and opponents of the annexation planted rows of signs and rallied voters yesterday.

Robert Scranton and Frank Potepan, owners of CBI Development Group who hope to build 275 homes on the farmland, stood outside the polling station all day with signs that read: "Vote Yes for the Zeltman Annexation on May 1."

While awaiting results last night, the Town Council met and unanimously adopted an $8.8 million budget for the next fiscal year. No town resident turned out for the hearing on the budget, held at 7 p.m. - about an hour and a half before the members voted on the matter.

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