Queenstown delays Wheatlands property decision
QUEENSTOWN — The town commissioners have postponed their decision on the Wheatlands property and will continue to allow the public to comment about it during a meeting in January.
A public hearing was held by the commissioners on Wednesday, Dec. 14, regarding a proposed ordinance that allows a growth allocation within the Wheatlands property located on Route 301, across from the outlet shops in Queenstown.
Based on advice from their lawyer, the commissioners passed a motion to continue the public hearing at their next meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 11, starting at 4 p.m. in town hall.
After that hearing, it’s possible the commissioners will make a decision on the growth allocation ordinance which would rezone 60 acres of the 140-acre Wheatlands property from resource conservation area to intensely developed area.
Commercial development has been proposed for the site, sometimes called the Waterman property which is named after the family who owns it.
At the Dec. 14 hearing, about 10 people talked, including Barry Waterman of Waterman Family Limited Partnership, which owns the property. Waterman’s attorney, Joe Stevens, also spoke as well some members of the public.
It makes sense for Waterman to get the growth allocation from the town commissioners first and then proceed with the planning process involving density and design of the development, Stevens said. Waterman said people have approached him to develop the property, but they want the growth allocation to be approved first.
A maximum of 500,000 square feet of commercial development was once discussed for the property. But Waterman said he doesn’t expect that large of a development to happen in the near future. He envisions the site to have maybe retail, a grocery store, restaurant and a bank.
Waterman also touted the taxes that the property will be bring if developed. Based on commercial development in the area, he estimates the site would generate $1 million a year in taxes to the various governments entities.
Stan Ruddie of Chester said the 500,000 square feet proposed for the property is out of scale with the rest of the area. He also said a large parking lot would be necessary for the project and would cause environmental problems.
Also at the hearing, there was a dispute on whether the hearing and proposed ordinance were properly advertised. Two residents complained that they weren’t notified until close to the actual hearing. But Stevens said the notice of the hearing is required to be advertised in the newspaper, not by email.
Town attorney Brynja McDivitt Booth said the hearing was advertised in the Record Observer on Nov. 11 and Nov. 18. But she said she would write up a finding of facts and send it to the interested residents.
If the commissioners approve the ordinance, the growth allocation still must be approved by the state Critical Area Commission.
Besides consideration before the town commissioners, the Wheatlands property is in court and the issue goes back years.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently heard oral arguments on whether the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners had the legal right to reverse their decision on a five-year waiting period for rezoning the Wheatlands property.
As of Monday, Dec. 19, the court hasn’t issued an opinion.
Lawyers representing the Wheatlands’ owner argued that reversing the waiver wasn’t legal because the Queenstown government annexed the property and therefore has control over it. But the lawyer representing the opposition said the county has the right to rescind its ordinances.
Queenstown annexed the property in 2014 and received a waiver from the sitting county commissioners on having to wait five years to change the land use and zoning. But the new county commissioners rescinded the waiver.
The Waterman partnership took the matter to the Circuit Court of Queen Anne’s County, which declared the decision by the new commissioners to be void, upholding the waiver.
Several citizens and the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to the Court of Special Appeals. Their lawyer asked the appeals court to reverse the Circuit Court’s decision, which would mean the waiver is void.
The Queenstown Commissioners held a public hearing on the growth allocation for the Wheatlands property on Wednesday Dec. 14. Sitting in the front of the table are Barry Waterman, property owner, right, and Joe Stevens, his attorney, left. Going around the table, left, is Amy Moore, town clerk, George Plumbo, Queenstown commissioner, Tom Willis, Queenstown Commissioner president, Hogie Schuster, commissioner, and Brynja McDivitt Booth, the commissioners’ lawyer.