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Habitat hurries ahead

Volunteers continue race to beat town ordinance

Volunteers continue race to beat town ordinance

June 18, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Habitat for Humanity of Washington County's race to build a duplex in Boonsboro continued Thursday, seven days before a town ordinance possibly halting the project will take effect.

In an e-mail to potential volunteers, Sherry Brown Cooper, Habitat's local executive director, had asked for help.

"Need 6 to 8 volunteers," she wrote about Thursday's work.

That's what she got.

A man from a local construction company knocked and tugged at a stubborn stump with a backhoe bucket. The man later asked not to be identified.

Leonard Thomas moved dirt with a track loader - after spending six hours on the job on Wednesday.

"If it wouldn't have been so wet, I've have been done yesterday," he said.

"Having to work under a deadline like this makes it tougher than normal," said volunteer Dick Cushwa, who has worked on other Habitat for Humanity homes in Washington County.

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The town's planning commission approved a variance for the Habitat for Humanity duplex last year.

Following residents' recent complaints about the placement of the duplex, the Boonsboro Town Council on Monday unanimously approved an emergency ordinance prohibiting new homes from fronting alleys.

The ordinance takes effect June 24, or 10 days after it was passed. It might thwart construction of the Habitat duplex, which faces an alley off St. Paul Street.

Through an attorney, nearby resident Karen Shifler obtained a temporary restraining order from a Washington County Circuit judge on June 11, temporarily halting the work. Three days later, a different Circuit judge vacated the restraining order on the grounds that it was "irregularly entered."

Habitat volunteers are continuing their construction push, hoping to get a substantial amount of work done before June 24, which could give the project greater legal standing.

"The important thing is to get the footers done," said Jeff Cullison of Boonsboro, who said that a fellow parishioner at Boonsboro Bible Church asked if anyone wanted to help.

Mary Poscover, who lives in Beaver Creek, tried to help build a previous Habitat for Humanity home, but got there too late.

This time, she arrived at 8 a.m. and found herself doing bits of construction work, beyond what she'd done before.

"It made me feel powerful," Poscover joked, rolling up her sleeves.

Brad Dick of Hagerstown and David Nunamaker of Boonsboro, who work with the man on the backhoe, said they were happy to volunteer, too.

Volunteers were still working at 7:30 p.m.

Work was expected to continue today and Saturday.

Asked on Thursday afternoon if the hurried construction violates the spirit of the new ordinance, Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr. had no comment.

Town Manager John Kendall said Habitat for Humanity approached the town three times with different plans for the land. The zoning board twice rejected requests for setback and access variances. Both proposals had the home facing St. Paul Street, Kendall said.

The third proposal sought a variance for the duplex to face the alley. Kendall said that under the town's ordinance, the planning commission could approve that variance on its own, which it did.

The new ordinance passed Monday says: "No dwelling shall be established, constructed or occupied on any lot which is not directly contiguous to a public street. For the purposes of this section, an alley shall not be considered a public street. The Board of Appeals may not grant a variance from the requirements of this section."

The ordinance does not specifically name the Planning Commission and its authority to grant a variance. However, Kendall said the first sentence closes the loophole that allowed the planning commission to grant a variance.

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