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By JOSH JANNEY – The Winchester Star – Jul 15, 2020

MIDDLETOWN — Town Council voted 5-1 Monday night to amend proffers for a proposed residential development on the southeast side of Main Street, south of Sixth Street.

The vote will allow Richmond American Homes to build 92 single-family, detached homes on 24.87 acres, divided into three parcels. The property, which is vacant, is zoned Middletown Traditional Neighborhood Design.

A 2008 rezoning of the property allowed for the construction 101 residential units — 69-single family detached units and 32 town homes. The amended proffers will reduce the number of housing units by 9%.

At Monday night’s Town Council meeting, several residents voiced their opposition to the project. Stephanie Mitchell said she is against the development because she believes “it will adversely impact the historic nature and character of the town.”

“Once a small town is lost, it is lost forever,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell and others also expressed concerns about the development increasing traffic and noise, which could hurt the value of neighboring properties.

Town resident Sue Teal said southern Frederick County doesn’t need and can’t afford the amount of mass produced, high-density residential development that it is currently taking place.

She acknowledged the revised proffer plan submitted by Greenway Engineering on behalf of Richmond American Homes is an improvement over the previous plan from 2008. She also noted that if the amended proffers aren’t approved, the previous plan can be implemented by-right.

Richmond American Homes Director of Land Acquisition Bryan Steffen said at a July 6 Town Council work session that if the amended proffers are rejected, the company would likely return with a plan to develop the 101 units already approved for the site.

“I would like to express my sincere sympathy to council, for they have indeed inherited a mess,” Teal said. “You are being forced to deal with the consequences of decisions made more than a decade ago by a town administration that was completely unprepared to deal with development pressure and unable to concretely visualize the outcome of those decisions.”

Belle Grove Plantation Executive Director Kristen Laise urged council to be “cautious” about their decisions regarding additional development. She alluded to the fact that the Village at Middletown, which calls for 180 single-family dwellings as well as 80,477 square feet of commercial space, is already under construction.

“The viewshed, the historic nature of this town is rapidly changing with the development that’s already underway,” Laise said. “To develop this property would mean every thoroughfare into the town of Middletown would be driving through a mass, dense development property.”

Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV and council member George Smith said they wanted to delay voting on the project to allow three weeks to negotiate revised plans with Richmond American Homes.

“Right now I’m just really strongly against this at this time,” Smith said. “We just can’t put the cart before the horse. We really have got to think about what we are going to do here. There are so many variables — police department, fire companies. Who’s paying for it? Where do we get this? Proffers are not going to make it all happen, I’ll tell you that right now. It’s not going to happen. We really need more time for this. Let’s finish the north end of town first and see how that works out.”

Other council members noted that if the application isn’t approved, Richmond American Homes or another developer could move forward with developing 101 units without needing approval from council.

“I think first of all, we’ve got to realize that this development is going to come,” said council member Daryl Terrill. “We can’t stop it. It’s going to be here eventually. I think at this point we’ve got a good deal from Richmond. I honestly don’t think they are going to give anymore. They’ve been cooperative so far and have given us everything we’ve asked for. And by kicking it down the road, we are going to possibly open ourselves up to some litigation and possibly lawsuits.”

Terrill and council members Jeff Pennington, Carolyn Aliff, Shayla Rickard and Scott Fink voted in favor of the proffer amendment. Smith opposed it.

Steffen said last week that if the amended proffers are approved, Richmond American Homes would buy the site from property owners Harold and Francis Adams and possibly begin construction next summer.

Also at the meeting, council voted 4-2 to appoint Dennis Fusaro to the town’s Planning Commission. Smith and Aliff opposed his appointment, as they wanted more time to discuss his application and vet him for the position.