Development change spurs creation of Frederick task force to review rules -- Gazette.Net


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Frederick officials will form a task force to clarify whether residents living in a community must sign off on any changes to their development before the plan can be approved.

At issue is a three-year battle with Frederick’s Worman’s Mill community, which houses more than 1,000 residents, over extensive changes to their development. Currently, residents are challenging the city’s actions in court.

The Frederick Board of Aldermen discussed the issue at a workshop Wednesday, debating whether city documents require the signature of all residents in a community when changes are made to its master plan.

Some residents in Worman’s Mill have been requesting that since 2009 when the developer proposed extensive changes to the long-term vision for the development situated in the northern end of the city

Wormald, the developer of Worman’s Mill, opted to change its development plans from cafes and mom-and-pop shops to the construction of 171 apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and an assisted-living facility for senior citizens.

Joe Adkins, the city’s deputy director of planning, said at the meeting that the Frederick Planning Department had never required the signature of all residents.

In response to the issue, Mayor Randy McClement (R) and staff from the planning department will form a small task force to discuss potential changes to the city’s planning documents, including whether a clause allowing for input from residents is needed.

City officials did not set a timeline for the task force, but said it would not be a lenghty process.

Dozens of Worman’s Mill residents urged the aldermen on Wednesday to require resident input on changes to the plans in developments.

But residents were split about how much input was necessary, with some advocating for the 100 percent they believe is currently needed, and others advocating a lower percentage of around 75 percent of the community.

However, Rand Weinberg, an attorney representing Wormald, said the code does not require the signatures of residents, and that the changes to the plans shouldn’t require the signatures of neighboring property owners.

Weinberg said he wouldn’t invest property in a project without being able to make changes during development and that the city shouldn’t allow veto power for residents.

Alderman Michael O’Connor (D) said the aldermen should work to change the language in the planning documents if the city’s legal and planning staff don’t think they provide enough clarity.

Saundra Nickols, the city attorney, said the city’s legal staff still believes the document is clearly written, but said the aldermen could still consider changing the document’s language to potentially avoid a similar situation in the future.

“Our position is still [that it’s clearly written], but when people raise issues, we should correct it so we don’t face this again,” Nickols said. “I think you need to face it. ... We don’t want to be in this position again with another lawsuit.”

Some residents in the development were upset with the proposed changes and initiated a lengthy battle with the city.

They argued that the changes proposed by Wormald need the signature of all the homeowners in the development because the city's land management code requiries it if a revision to the property includes more than 10 percent of additional density of homes.

The Frederick Board of Zoning Appeals had lengthy discussions over several meetings in August, September and October on whether the Frederick Planning Commission erred by not requiring the signatures of all residents before approving the changes.

The board ultimately could not come to a four-person majority of the five-member board, and the planning commission decision to allow the changes was upheld.

The Worman’s Mill residents filed a lawsuit in Frederick County Circuit Court Nov. 1 contesting the decision. A hearing date has not been set.

tlaino@gazette.net