Council votes on farm's zoning

Mount Airy panel suggests keeping Zeltman land as is


Seizing political capital from the recent local election, the reorganized Mount Airy Town Council has recommended maintaining agricultural zoning for the Zeltman farm, a Frederick County property that town residents overwhelmingly opposed annexing.

But Frederick County commissioners control the fate of the contested property. With the annexation void, the Frederick board could decide on a master plan designation for the 152-acre farm as early as Tuesday, said Frederick Commissioner John L. "Lennie" Thompson Jr.

"Regardless of what the zoning is, if it has a residential plan designation, developers can walk in the door and get it rezoned," Thompson said. "With the land just on its doorstep, that would be a disaster for Mount Airy. They would get all of the traffic and none of the benefits."

His fellow commissioners could be more enthusiastic about developing the farm, said Thompson, who describes himself as anti-growth.

In February, when the Mount Airy Town Council voted to annex the Zeltman property, the Frederick commissioners started planning for low-density residential development. A developer proposed building up to 275 homes there. A future school site also appeared on the map near the proposed subdivision.

However, Mount Airy's May 1 election and referendum thwarted the developer's plans. Last week, the new town council voted 3-2 to ask Frederick County to keep the Zeltman land agricultural.

That doesn't preclude an annexation in the future, newly sworn-in Mayor Frank Johnson and Councilmen John Woodhull and Gary Nelson said. But altering the property for low-density residential use now could eliminate their bargaining power with the Frederick commissioners, they said.

"We're far better off having the cards in our hands, having this not have the designation low-density residential down the road," Johnson said.

Though not on the agenda, the fate of the Zeltman property also could provoke discussion at the Mount Airy Planning Commission meeting Monday night, said new council President David Pyatt.

Council candidates Keith Gehle and Jay Neuman, who supported the annexation and were defeated in the election, sit on the Planning Commission. Pyatt - the only council member who voiced opposition to the annexation - has been named the council's new planning and zoning liaison.

"I think it'll be friendly in the sense that we'll know where each other stands," Pyatt said. "We'll just have to work it out."

With the post-election shake-up, council members Peter R. Helt and Wendi W. Peters are in the minority in their support for the annexation.

Securing a new water source for Mount Airy also has been questioned since voters rejected the annexation.

Three multimillion-dollar surface-water options had been proposed, in connection with the increased demand new development that would create.

Johnson selected Woodhull to replace Peters on the town's water committee. Peters had expressed optimism about tapping into Frederick's pipeline to the Potomac River. But Pyatt, the new councilmen and mayor are wary of expensive surface water options.

"There's so many things that depend on each other," Pyatt said. "We've got to figure out what water we have, how much development that can support, how much we can squeeze out of the ground."

Rob Scranton, the developer who proposed the subdivision on the Zeltman farm, has not returned calls since the May 1 election.

Jean Zeltman, co-owner of the farm, said she hopes that Frederick County's revised master plan still assigns residential use to her property.

The Zeltmans, who are staying for now, had planned to reap retirement income from the annexation.

"It makes it tough," she said.

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