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Lenox to fight decision

April 26, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Lenox Inc. is appealing to the Hagerstown City Council a committee's decision that the company must sign a pre-annexation agreement to get water service for its $28 million distribution center under construction on Hunters Green Parkway.

The company is the first to appeal to the council a decision involving the disputed annexation policy, which went into effect in September 2002.

The policy, which is also being challenged in the courts by the Washington County government, requires property along the city's borders to be annexed before city water and sewer service are extended.

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Unless they can get a city exemption, owners of property that does not border the city would have to agree to future annexation before receiving city water and sewer service. That annexation would be required once their properties became adjacent to city land.

The new Lenox distribution center is not adjacent to city boundaries.

The council is scheduled to hear the appeal from Lenox at its May 6 meeting.

The company contends it should be exempted from the annexation policy since it was not notified of the policy until after the distribution center was more than 50 percent completed.

Lenox would have to pay higher taxes if annexed into the city. The company was not told that when it was deciding whether to build the center in Washington County or West Virginia, Phil Lynch, a spokesman for Lenox's parent company, Brown-Forman, said Friday.

Tim Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said Friday he will speak in support of the Lenox request.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the Hagerstown Annexation Review Committee was following policy when it made is decision earlier this month.

In an April 16 letter to the city of Hagerstown, Louis A. Fantin, senior vice president and legal counsel of Lenox China, wrote: "It is my understanding that the pre-annexation ordinance became effective Sept. 1 2002. As you know, Lenox made its decision to remain in the Hagerstown area and build its new warehouse in May of 2001, approximately one and a half years prior to the effective date of the pre-annexation ordinance.

"At the time we met with city, county and state officials who made several convincing arguments to persuade Lenox to remain in the Hagerstown area. We were never told that the only way that Lenox could get water service was to sign a pre-annexation agreement requiring a new warehouse facility to become a party of the city of Hagerstown if and when the warehouse became contiguous to Hagerstown," he wrote.

The company wants to be waived from the annexation policy, Fantin said.

The new distribution center is expected to create about 60 jobs and be open and operational by January 2004, Lynch said.

The Washington County Commission says the city's annexation policy violates a 1997 sewer agreement between the county and city governments because it places conditions on the provision of service. The city disagrees with the county's interpretation.

A trial on the lawsuit between the city and the county is scheduled to start in September.

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