Aberdeen growth fails

Voters in city and proposed annexation area say no

December 06, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Growth-wary Aberdeen voters rejected yesterday the annexation of more than 500 acres, a proposal city officials had aggressively promoted amid opponents' complaints that the plan had been hastily arranged and would strain municipal services.

The referendum drew nearly as many voters to the polls as the record turnout for the city's mayoral election last fall. The proposal was intended to pave the way for an upscale development, and many residents who voted in the special election said they are worried about growth and the potential effect on taxes.

"The people were against this from the beginning," Bobbie Randles, an organizer of a group of residents opposed to the annexation, said after the votes had been tallied. "This is a case of the City Council being out of touch with their constituents."

FOR THE RECORD - In an article in the Maryland section yesterday, the last name of Aberdeen City Council member Dave Yensan was misspelled. THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Elected officials bemoaned the outcome as a missed opportunity for Aberdeen.

"The proposal would've been good for the city," said City Council member David Yansan. "But the final result is, somebody's going to build there. It's in the hands of the [property] owners."

The measure was voted on by two groups: city residents and residents of the proposed annexation area. The measure had to be approved by both sets of voters. In unofficial results released last night, the measure failed among city residents, 1,340-745, and in the annexation parcel, 19-18. A small number of provisional ballots in each area remains to be counted but is not expected to affect the outcome.

Supporters said the project offered a unique opportunity for smart growth that would help accommodate new workers coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground while providing a financial boon to the city, which has struggled to balance its budget. Thousands of new workers are expected to shift to APG in the next decade as part of a national military base realignment.

But critics said the annexation agreement lacked clear guidelines on the developers' obligations to the community. Instead, they countered, the plan left the door open to problems. Most of those who rallied the opposition live in the proposed annexation area and had rebuffed earlier offers from the developers to buy their property.

The campaign had all the fervor of a small-town political campaign and even divided families. Both sides placed signs throughout the city and created Web sites, while residents received automated "robocalls" and activists went door-to-door. The referendum was forced after opponents of the development collected more than 2,000 signatures.

Two polling places with electronic voting machines were set up for the election -- one in the Aberdeen Senior Center for city residents, and in a recreational vehicle in the proposed annexation area for those residents. Election officials said dozens of residents who were ineligible to cast ballots because they reside outside the areas in question tried to vote because they were concerned about the ripple effect growth could have.

Conceived as an upscale subdivision, the project -- dubbed The Wetlands -- would feature townhouses, garage villas, condominiums and individual houses priced at an average of $350,000, the developers said. An impact fee of $20,000 would be assessed on each home to offset infrastructure costs, such as roads, water and schools.

The City Council passed the annexation resolution 5-0 in June, though Councilwoman Ruth Elliott later said she changed her mind. A formal agreement was drawn up only last month, which frustrated opponents of the plan.

The turnout surprised organizers of both camps as residents braved yesterday's cold weather to vote.

"I've lived here since 1955, and we've always had water problems, sewer problems, and they just raised our property taxes." said Richard C. English, 79, who said he voted against the measure.

City officials said the debate was likely far from over, as the developer already had resubmitted revamped plans to build on the golf course.


The tally

Residents of Aberdeen and residents of an area proposed for annexation voted on a referendum to add more than 500 acres to the city.(A small number of provisional ballots remain but are not expected to change the outcome.)

City residents:

For: 745

Against: 1,340

Residents of county land proposed for annexation:

For: 18

Against: 19

Total number of registered voters in the two areas: 8,077

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