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Hancock mayor: Strip mall plan not necessarily dead

July 29, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HANCOCK -- A proposed commercial development on the outskirts of Hancock stalled a few months ago, but it might not be dead.

At a public meeting in April, Stephen Sagi and Ted Weaver Sr., as Route 144 LLC, said they'd like to build a strip center along Md. 144, a main road through the town.

However, the developers said the success of their project depended on the state letting them use land close to the Western Maryland Rail Trail - approval the state won't give.

A June 13 letter by Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson says, "Representatives of Route 144 LLC have subsequently advised my staff that since (the Maryland Department of Natural Resources) is unwilling to lease or sell the necessary property for this project, further plans to develop the commercial project are not going to be pursued at this time."

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Sagi didn't return about eight phone messages left at his property management office during a two-week period.

During the last call, a woman who answered the phone said Sagi had no comment.

Hancock Mayor Daniel Murphy, who supports the project for the economic boost it could mean for the town, said it might still be viable, without using state land.

"The developers are still trying to move forward," he said.

At the April meeting, Sagi said the proposed development, which hadn't been submitted for formal review yet, could include a McDonald's and a Cracker Barrel restaurant. A hotel of three or four stories also was planned.

He and Weaver estimated the project cost at $35 million and said it would create about 300 new jobs.

The strip center would be along Md. 144, on the eastern edge of the town.

A main sticking point was whether the developers could extend their property back another 100 feet toward the rail trail, a recreational-use path of more than 20 miles maintained by the DNR.

"The additional requirement would be 183,764.00 sq. ft. or 4.22 acres," according to a project summary.

"We have not changed our position," DNR spokeswoman Olivia Campbell wrote in an e-mail this month. "DNR does not intend to sell or swap land with the developer in order to accommodate the proposed development."

Murphy said the town wants to protect the rail trail, too, and resistance seems based on emotion more than facts. He said a "line of demarcation" separates the rural section of the trail from the part that runs along a developed area.

Although some have debated whether food-service jobs could replace hundreds of manufacturing jobs lost in recent years, Murphy said the town can't be too picky.

"We need all those jobs," he said, echoing the sentiments town council members expressed at the April meeting.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said Route 144 LLC's idea isn't bad, but he's concerned the project, as proposed, would be too close to the rail trail and would need a retaining wall.

Letters by Wilson and John R. Griffin, the DNR secretary, responded to inquiries by Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany.

Hancock is not in his district, but Kelly has written to state officials because of complaints about rubble dumped in the area of the project.

Murphy said the rubble has been removed.

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