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Developer wants 60 homes on 123 acres

September 19, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County developer Manny Shaool wants to build 60 single-family homes on 123 acres near more than 1,000 acres the county government is preserving for farmland northeast of Clear Spring, according to the Washington County Planning Department.

The land that hugs the northeast corner of Md. 57 or St. Paul Road and Hicksville Road is in an area that has the county's best agricultural soil and is one of the county's largest undeveloped blocks of land, said Jill Baker, an associate county planner.

"It's going to devastate our agricultural program," Baker said. The preservation program is voluntary and the county pursues easements as funding becomes available, she said.

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Baker said she's asked Shaool to preserve the land or at least scale back his plans considerably.

The concept plan submitted to the planning department calls for 62 lots in a development called Sunset Meadows, but Shaool said he has cut that down to 60 lots and may reduce it further, depending on the results of percolation tests.

Percolation tests are done to see if land is suitable for septic systems.

The land is zoned agriculture, which would allow Shaool's proposal, Baker said. No special exception would be required.

Shaool said county zoning would allow him to build one house per acre, but he wants to average about one house per two acres.

Shaool said he would be amenable to swapping the land with the county for equivalent land in a growth area.

"I have to put my housing somewhere. The land was for sale. I bought it in the open market and I paid money for it," Shaool said. "If the county wants to preserve it, I have no problem with it, if they give me land equivalent to that in a growth area."

Earlier this year, Shaool withdrew a plan for a 990-unit housing complex off Mount Aetna Road after the Washington County Planning Commission, citing density and traffic concerns, recommended the Washington County Commissioners reject the proposal.

Instead, Shaool is proposing 170 single-family units, 50 two-family units, 99 townhouses and 180 condominiums on 220 acres along Mount Aetna Road, across from Black Rock Golf Course east of Hagerstown, according to planning documents.

That project will go before the Planning Commission on Monday, Shaool said.

If Shaool does not alter his plans for Sunset Meadows near Clear Spring and they are approved, Baker said the county's agricultural preservation program will move forward.

Shaool and his wife, Janet, bought the land for $600,000 on Aug. 1 from Mildred K. Seibert et al, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Shaool submitted the concept plan on Aug. 8, Baker said. The Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to review and comment on the proposal at its Oct. 7 meeting, she said.

That meeting is not a public hearing for public comment, Baker said. People can send their comments in writing to Jill Baker or Robert Arch, c/o Washington County Planning Department, 80 W. Baltimore St., Hagerstown, MD 21740.

The planning office should have those comments by Sept. 25 in order for the commission to have them at the Oct. 7 meeting, but people can submit comments after that date, Baker said.

Baker said she doesn't expect the commission to vote on Shaool's proposal this year because further work is required, such as percolation tests.

Shaool has submitted a request to subdivide the first four lots along Hicksville Road, and that could be approved before the end of the year, Baker said.

The Planning Commission has given County Planner Robert Arch the discretion to approve subdivisions of five lots or less and typically such small requests do not go before the commission, Baker said.

The land is being farmed and the existing farmhouse would remain, Shaool said.

The proposal also calls for planting forests in the flood plain, Baker said. If a traffic study shows the development would significantly increase eastbound traffic on Hicksville Road, Shaool could be asked to widen Hicksville Road to meet county road standards, Baker said.

Shaool said he wants to build tasteful custom colonial homes that would sell for $225,000 to $325,000 each. The upscale housing would fill a demand he said is coming from Frederick and Montgomery counties.

Those two counties have seen tremendous growth and with that, increases in housing prices and traffic congestion.

"It's a beautiful location," Shaool said. "People want some housing over there despite the preservation situation. I'm sure people want housing. You cannot make everybody happy."

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