Annexation foes seek vote in Aberdeen

City Hall gets petition for referendum on 524-acre addition, development


Hoping to turn back the recent annexation of more than 500 acres - and the thousands of homes it could bring - a group of Aberdeen residents submitted a petition to City Hall yesterday with 3,000 signatures in an effort to put the issue to voters in a special election.

The signatures - which have not been officially verified - suggest measurable discontent in this city of 14,000, where developers and city officials claim the development is a necessity for the workers who will come to the area as part of a military base realignment.

Nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground is expected to add more than 9,000 jobs by 2011 as part of a nationwide reshuffling ordered last year by the Pentagon's Base Closure and Realignment Commission, known as BRAC.

Planners have predicted that the shift could bring as many as 28,000 households to Maryland, with 8,000 of them likely to move to Harford County to work at or near the proving ground.

Some residents, worried that growth is being rushed, have opposed city officials' plans to annex 524 acres to accommodate the influx. About 300 people turned out in June to oppose the annexation when the City Council unanimously approved it.

By going door to door and setting up at parades and other events, opponents say, they have gathered nearly twice the 1,600 signatures required to bring the issue to a vote. They say they have collected 800 more signatures than the number of votes cast in the 2005 municipal election.

"The people of Aberdeen are against the way the council and mayor do business," said Paul Burkheimer, one of the opposition leaders.

Mayor S. Fred Simmons said claims that the project would increase taxes, crowd schools and weaken public safety are "categorically false." He said an 18-cent property tax increase - which also has caused an upheaval - has straightened out the city's financial woes. Impact fees charged to the developer would make the annexation self-sustaining, the mayor said.

"If anything, it [the annexation] will decrease taxes," Simmons said.

The Wetlands, the development that would be allowed by the annexation, is planned as an upscale community of homes, restaurants and shops.

Developers say the townhouses, condominiums and single-family homes would cost an average of $350,000. Residents would be able to walk to restaurants, shops and coffeehouses, and green space, bicycle trails and an existing golf course would surround their homes. An impact fee of $20,000 would be assessed on each home to offset costs of providing police protection, water, sewer and other city services to the new residents.

Distrustful of the municipal government, annexation opponents brought their thick stack of petitions to City Hall sealed in a combination lockbox and asked that Harford County election officials check the signatures instead of the city's election board.

If enough signatures are verified to force a vote, a special election could be called by the first week in October, officials said.

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