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Mount Aetna Farms east of Hagerstown could be developed into prison

Three City Council members oppose plans for Federal Detention Center

Three City Council members oppose plans for Federal Detention Center

June 20, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A federal prison and residential housing units are among the possible land uses that have been discussed for Mount Aetna Farms, a 220-acre property that sits east of town between Hagerstown Community College and Robinwood Medical Center.

One possible use for the land could include the construction of offices, convenience retail and residential components, according to a letter that was presented Tuesday to the Hagerstown City Council from NAI The Michael Companies Inc., a real estate business that has been retained by PNC Bank to sell the property. A research and development facility could be an option as well.

"Another alternative we have considered is to find a federal user who might locate a remote facility from Washington," the letter said. "We have spoken with the Bureau of Prisons to determine if Hagerstown would be an appropriate location for another Federal Detention Center."

David B. Wills, vice president of NAI Michael, said the land is selling for about $11.5 million. It is NAI Michael's job to sell the property to anyone who might be interested, he said.

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"It is totally up to the purchaser to obtain any required approvals for their use of the property in accordance with local ordinances," Wills said. "The property is mostly zoned residential suburban and part of the land is zoned agricultural. Any other uses would require the approval of local authorities."

Washington County Planning Director Michael C. Thompson concurred with Wills, saying the property's zoning is set primarily for residential development. Any other use would have to be discussed among local officials. He said he wasn't sure whether the property is contiguous with the city, but, if that were the case, the city could annex it and would be responsible for providing a majority of the utilities.

Although the property is in the county, the letter solicited a response from the city leadership to determine appropriate uses for the land.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer declined to comment on the issue, and Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he couldn't discuss it because he had not read the letter from NAI Michael.

The members of the council who had read the letter, however, said they were opposed to bringing another prison complex - three state prisons are just south of the city off Sharpsburg Pike - to the Hagerstown area.

"Not in my lifetime," Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said.

Councilmen Martin E. Brubaker and Lewis C. Metzner said the idea to use the property as the site for a research and development facility or for office, residential and retail space was more realistic.

"As for prisons, it's not appropriate," Brubaker said. "We need a tax base."

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