Developers reveal details of Wetlands proposal

Web site outlines plans for restaurants, shops, homes costing $350,000 if land is annexed

July 09, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Responding to mounting opposition to the annexation of a 524-acre parcel by the city of Aberdeen, developers of the proposed Wetlands subdivision released last week some details of the project and announced the launch of a Web site that describes their plans.

The Wetlands is planned as an upscale subdivision, where townhouses, garage villas, condominiums and individual homes would cost an average $350,000, the developers said. Residents would walk to clusters of restaurants, shops and coffeehouses from homes surrounding landscaped spaces, bike trails and an existing golf course, which would pay the city more than $80,000 annually in amusement taxes. An impact fee of $20,000 would be assessed on each home to offset infrastructure costs.

Aberdeen, a city of 14,000, will need more homes as the federal Base Realignment and Closure process brings thousands of military families to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"This is a planned community with several different types of homes," said Christopher Michel, one of the partners in Wetlands LLC, the developer of the project. "Preparations need to be made for BRAC, and the city has the foresight to plan for growth coming to this area. Poor planning dictates problems down the line."

Opponents have argued that government planning has been sketchy at best, with little public input. They are insisting that details about roads, schools and utilities be made public.

"The City Council has not planned for all the necessary infrastructure," said Charles Wallace, spokesman for Say No Annex, a group of residents opposed to the annexation. "They are allowing development to decide for them. All we want is to slow down so we can have smart growth that involves all the people of Aberdeen."

Opponents say they want to take the measure to referendum and have collected more than 400 signatures in a petition drive. They need nearly 2,000 to bring the issue to a vote and a majority at the polls to overturn the council's recent unanimous decision to annex.

The developers' Web site, aberdeenannexation.com, offers maps showing the layout of the site and information on homes, though the partners stress that the plans are preliminary. They also will promote the project through direct mailings.

"We will pay our own way and not burden existing taxpayers," said Sam Smedley, a partner in the project who has managed the Wetlands Golf Course for more than a decade. "We will help with fire and police and roads and contribute to the schools."

Wallace said he wants those promises in writing.

"It is incumbent upon officials to make people aware of what and how this development will occur and to make them confident it will be smart growth," said Wallace, who lives in Havre de Grace and owns an insurance business there. "We want to see plans for the services that the city will have to provide."

Information on the opposition's effort is available by e-mailing the group at www.say-no@comcast.net.

The city is planning for impending growth that could double its population. It has proposed retooling an existing water treatment plant on the Army base to draw as much as 6 million gallons of water daily from the Chesapeake Bay. Its wastewater treatment plant has more than enough capacity to handle the expected growth, officials said.

Mayor S. Fred Simmons said growth will occur in and around the city, despite whether the referendum succeeds. He and other city officials believe the opportunity to develop such a large swath at once is a unique opportunity to shape growth and serve the needs of APG's growing work force. The parcel is part of about 1,000 acres expected to be brought into the city limits through annexation in the coming months.

For decades, Interstate 95 served as a barrier to the city's limits. That changed with the construction of Ripken Stadium in 2002, where a developer plans to build shops, a multiplex and homes. The Wetlands could extend the city even further north and west.

Opponents say they are going door to door and will continue to collect signatures up to the Aug. 3 deadline.

"As a business owner, I want to see growth," Wallace said. "We all just want it done smartly."

Michel said, "We are not talking about thousands of homes. We are talking about a community with open space and quality of life."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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