New Market votes against annexation

Frederick County town rejects plan to expand by 262 developable acres

April 25, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

NEW MARKET -- Voters in this historic town east of Frederick voted yesterday to reject annexation of 262 acres of former farmland that would have increased the tiny community's population nearly fivefold.

Capping a six-month debate about the future of Maryland's self-styled antiques capital, residents voted 148-105 against the annexation, which would have allowed 925 new homes to be built. About three-quarters of the town's 340 registered voters marked paper ballots in yesterday's referendum.

Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III, who had pushed for the annexation as a way for the town to control its growth, conceded defeat last night.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section Wednesday about the New Market annexation erroneously reported the total number of houses that could have been built under the town's original annexation proposals. That figure was 3,025 homes.
The Sun regrets the error.

"We're grown-ups. We move on," he said.

Opponents hailed the result as confirmation of the slow-growth sentiment that swept Frederick County in last fall's elections.

"We're slowing things down," said Edgar W. "Bud" Rossig III, leader of Concerned Neighbors of New Market.

Town officials originally proposed annexing 1,200 acres in two separate tracts - enough to build 3,050 homes - with pledges from the developers to build a bypass around the congested Main Street area and provide sites for three schools and other needed infrastructure and cash.

But the plan provoked a backlash from many of New Market's 540 residents, who said they feared the development would worsen traffic and destroy their community's small-town character.

Faced with threats of a voter revolt and opposition from newly elected Frederick County officials pledging to slow growth around the town, the developer of the larger parcel withdrew its request late last year to be brought into New Market.

The Town Council went ahead with the smaller annexation west of town, where Winchester Homes had proposed building up to 925 homes. The national homebuilder also pledged to provide 24 acres and $19 million toward construction of a new school to serve the added students, plus $5 million in cash to the town.

Opponents collected enough signatures this year to petition the decision to a referendum. A leader of Concerned Neighbors said the proposed expansion was "still too much at this time," pointing out that the town was already adding about 350 homes as a result of earlier annexations.

A group of residents favoring the annexation also formed, arguing that it is the only way for the town to control - and benefit financially from -the growth that is occurring around it. Supporters believe the development could bring the town badly needed funds to fix its infrastructure problems, including extending a water line down Main Street to replace contaminated wells.

But opponents prevailed. They pointed out that the newly elected county commissioners are scaling back the development their predecessors had planned for the New Market area. Burhans said he would resume discussions with county officials, which at times have been testy, about the future of growth in New Market.

Municipal expansions have become contentious in Maryland in recent years, as developers have flocked to small rural towns with offers to fund badly needed infrastructure if their housing projects could be annexed.

Some have argued that such development is in keeping with the state's decade-old Smart Growth policy, which encourages building in or adjacent to existing communities. But others have complained that the new developments are out of scale with the towns they seek to be part of, and that annexation is a way of avoiding the costs of providing schooling for new children.

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