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Hagerstown Gateway developer seeks to allay residents' concerns

August 29, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

BEAVER CREEK -- More than 100 people packed a Beaver Creek church Thursday night for a mediator-facilitated discussion with developers about ways to reduce the negative impact of the proposed Hagerstown Gateway Shopping Center.

The meeting marked the first time that representatives of the development company, Faison, had met directly with the public about the 850,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment center proposed for the area southeast of the Interstate 70/U.S. 40 interchange. The company called the meeting to collect input from members of the surrounding community about what they would like to see incorporated in the plan to make it better and less impactful, Faison attorney Jason M. Divelbiss said.

Beaver Creek Preservation Organization spokesman Michael Saylor responded to that request by reading a prepared list of seven "demands" and threatening that unless they are met, residents would fight the project "every step of the way" in an effort to stall it until a rival developer's plan for the adjacent land is approved.

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"As things currently stand, we have no recourse but to fight your development by all means possible and do everything that we can to delay your project so that the Doub Farm project gets approval first," Saylor said, adding that opponents to the project have "powerful friends," including state Del. Christopher B Shank, R-Washington, and state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Saylor's list of demands included a well monitoring program, a redesign for a portion of Beaver Creek Road, the frequent removal of litter from surrounding grounds and substantial donations to area conservation groups. Two of his other demands -- for adequate buffers and screening against light pollution and a restoration of Landis Spring Branch, a wetlands area running through the property -- already had been promised by Divelbiss in his opening remarks.

Divelbiss said the company was receptive to the ideas, particularly in regard to the layout of the roads, acknowledging that residents might know things about traffic patterns that do not show up in traffic studies.

In particular, residents were concerned that in the proposed layout, Beaver Creek Road and its one-lane bridges would become a back entrance to the shopping center, and responded enthusiastically to a suggestion to make the road dead end before it reaches the shopping center. Beaver Creek Preservation Organization coordinators and Faison representatives agreed to meet jointly with the Washington County Board of Commissioners to further discuss that and other traffic-related ideas.

Divelbiss emphasized several ways the proposed plan already goes beyond the norm to lessen environmental impact, including a contract with an environmental services company to restore and improve the wetlands on the property, more than 20 acres of on-site reforestation, tree-lined streets and parking areas, and full cutoff light fixtures to reduce light spillover.

In addition, developers have worked out an agreement with a private wastewater treatment plant to transfer some of its treatment capacity allocation to Hagerstown so the city does not lose any of its current capacity allocation, and have offered rent-free space for a Washington County Sheriff's Department substation to improve safety in the area, Divelbiss said.

By the end of the meeting, about a dozen people in the room raised their hands when a resident asked who still opposed the project outright, but many, including Saylor, expressed an interest in working with the developer.

The next step is for Faison to revise its plans based on preliminary consultation with county and state officials and resubmit them for final approval. The company will take the community's feedback into consideration as it continues to revise the plans, Divelbiss said.

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