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Residents sound off on Habitat

June 24, 2004|by RYAN C. TUCK

ryant@herald-mail.com

As volunteers for Habitat for Humanity of Washington County continued work on a controversial duplex on St. Paul Street in Boonsboro Wednesday, people on the streets of the town had mixed reactions about the construction.

Of the 41 people asked Wednesday whether Habitat should be allowed to continue building, 15 said yes and 26 said no. Three of those questioned were not from Boonsboro.

At the same time, 17 of those who questioned said they support the June 14 ordinance and 20 said they disagreed with the council's decision.

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The duplex is to front on an alley. As Habitat was preparing to begin construction, the Boonsboro Town Council on June 14 approved an emergency ordinance requiring new construction to face a street.

Cindy Zang of Lakin Avenue, which is parallel to the alley, said if the people who will live in the duplex give something back to Habitat, she supports the project.

Habitat for Humanity of Washington County Executive Director Sherry Brown Cooper said Habitat housing recipients are required to contribute 500 hours of volunteer work on Habitat projects.

"It's not a giveaway program," she said. "They work for it."

Freddy Starr of Boonsboro disagreed. "I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps," he said, calling the program another form of socialism.

The idea of homes facing alleys is not a good one, Tyler Garner said.

"A lot of people loiter in alleys," he said. "So I don't think people would want to build there."

Others discussed the merits of the emergency ordinance.

After construction, the alley "will be congested and not look good," Mark Gordon, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said.

Emergency vehicles being able to proceed through the alley on which the duplex is to front was a concern, said Town Council member Richard Hawkins.

Bryan Green, a volunteer firefighter with the nearly Boonsboro Volunteer Fire Dept., said the alley is not a problem.

"Trucks can get down that alley," he said, standing behind the fire station. "There are other places way worse than that (alley)."

More than five of those who gave their opinions Wednesday said the council's ordinance should have been passed before the project was approved.

The project was approved last July by the planning commission. Because of a "loophole" in the town's charter, Habitat did not have to take the duplex project before the council.

The ordinance was passed to "close that loophole," Town Manager John Kendall said.

The ordinance was to become effective 10 days after it was adopted. Some have said that would be Thursday night, but Mayor Charles "Skip" Kauffman Jr. said Wednesday it would go into effect on Friday.

Habitat had only to complete "substantial construction" before then to have vested rights to the property, said Roger Schlossberg, the attorney representing Habitat.

Kauffman said the ordinance would not affect any property "under construction."

The variables now are the effects on the residents of St. Paul Street and Lakin Avenue, which border the Habitat property, Kendall said.

Many of those affected residents weighed in Wednesday but wished to remain anonymous.

"The neighborhood is upset," said St. Paul Street resident Laura Howington.

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