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Growth endangers fireworks display

June 23, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

LONG MEADOW

gregs@herald-mail.com

Possible development plans are putting the future of a longtime July Fourth celebration in jeopardy, the event's chief organizer said Wednesday.

Debra Hunt, who has organized the Long Meadow fireworks for the past several years, said if the land from where the fireworks are launched is developed, it would end the celebration "as we know it."

"I think it's probably going to be the last year. ... With growth and development, you can't shoot off a fireworks display too close to buildings," Hunt said Wednesday.

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It was not immediately clear Wednesday what type of plans there are for the 30-acre piece of land north of Hagerstown city limits known as part of the Shank farm.

City officials said Wednesday that plans are in the works and are linked to an annexation proposal formally introduced this week by the City Council.

New homes are popping up around the farmland, and Hunt said she believes the piece where the fireworks have been set off will be the next place to be developed.

Hunt said the fireworks have been held on or around July 4 for at least 40 years on cornfields across Potomac Avenue from Long Meadow Shopping Center, which along with other local businesses has been sponsoring the event in recent years. This year's display, along with music and a magic show, is planned for Friday night.

With firework events at Antietam National Battlefield and Hagerstown's Fairgrounds Park, the display has been moved to accommodate the schedules, Hunt said. Attendance has remained strong at between 3,000 and 5,000 people, not including those who line up along local streets to watch from their cars, Hunt said.

The Shank land is under discussion to be annexed into city limits, and under the proposed land-use regulations would be able to hold a regional shopping center or other large retail business.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 5-0 in favor of a measure that initiates the annexation process, but the land couldn't be annexed into city limits until after a public hearing on the matter and a second vote by the council to finalize the annexation.

The land could be used for the same type of business inside or outside the city because the county's land-use designation for the land is the same that is being discussed for the city, City Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said.

"It's gonna develop regardless, whether it's in the city or outside the city," Aleshire said, which is why annexation is preferable to leaving it in the county.

"It's going to impact city services, so why have it develop on the city's border, allow it to impact city services, and not collect city taxes from it?" Aleshire said. Annexation would allow the city to "have greater control over the details of how it develops."

Aleshire said he's been told confidentially what some of the plans would be, but declined to reveal them, only saying the development would be in the confines of C4 zoning district regulations.

That zoning designation is the same designation for the land where Long Meadow Shopping Center is, as well as The Centre at Hagerstown and shopping centers along Wesel Boulevard.

Faison Enterprises Inc. requested the annexation. A company representative reached by phone Wednesday declined to comment on the project. The representative forwarded questions to a company spokesman who did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

Jim Bender, an engineer who works in the City Engineer's Office, said he's been given "sketchy information at best" about what could come to the farmland, but now that the annexation proposal has been introduced by the council, he expects more information to be coming forward soon.

Under a city schedule published this week, the annexation could become effective in October if the council approves it in August.

Hunt said it's sad to think the fireworks might not happen next year, but she held open the possibility of working with the land owners, whoever they might be, or holding some other type of event for the holiday.

"I don't want to stop the fireworks," Hunt said, but with increasing development "it's inevitable."

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