Sunday, April 16, 2006

THURMONT, Md. (AP) — A battle is brewing over plans for a big-box retail store and up to 400 new homes on farmland near the Frederick County town of Thurmont.

Mayor Martin Burns says annexing the 180-acre site for the proposed development would benefit the town of 6,000. But some area residents say it is all wrong for a community that promotes itself as the gateway to the scenic Catoctin Mountains.

“Putting up a Wal-Mart isn’t part of that,” said Thomas Cromwell, one of about 40 citizens who attended a meeting Wednesday on the issue. “Let the developer fit our vision.”

The property is about a quarter-mile north of Thurmont behind the Shamrock Restaurant on Route 15. It is owned by farmer Roy Myers and his six siblings, who want to sell it to developer Tyler-Donegan Real Estate Services Inc. of Ijamsville, the Frederick News-Post reported Friday.

Mr. Burns said Tyler-Donegan has approached town officials about annexing the land and changing its zoning from agricultural to commercial and residential.

Mr. Burns said he would like to have town residents vote on the issue in a referendum.

“If you want no growth, I’m good with that,” he said. “But your sewer rates, water rates, electricity will go up.”

He said Tyler-Donegan envisions a strip mall and a big-box store such as Wal-Mart, Lowe’s or Home Depot. Some residents at the meeting said they welcome the shopping and employment opportunities such a store would represent.

“It just gets to be a pain to drive to get anything,” said Kim Hagan, who favors the plan. She said she sometimes drives twice a day to Frederick, about 13 miles to the south, because stores there have lower prices and longer hours than the mom-and-pop businesses in downtown Thurmont.

Mr. Burns said the development wouldn’t necessarily mean abandoning the town’s slow-growth policy, which limits residential development to fewer than 54 new houses annually. He said the developer would be open to building the stores first, pushing back residential construction to 2009.

Some living near the site outside the town limits complained that they wouldn’t get to vote in a referendum but would have to endure traffic from the stores and homes.

“When I go to get the newspaper in the morning, I can’t hardly stand for a few minutes without a rush of cars coming through,” said Kevin Haney, who lives near the Myers farm. “A thousand more people wouldn’t work.”

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