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The Town of Hebron expansion plan re: Waller Landing; a brief history, description of the Town’s actions, and timeline

    Introduction
    History
    Position of the Friends of the Nanticoke River

Introduction

The Waller Landing project is emblematic of bad growth being proposed at other locations throughout the Shore. In addition to serious deficiencies in the planning process and an overall lack of infrastructure to support it, the project would put at substantial risk the health of the Nanticoke River, as it is poised to add 1 million gallons per day of wastewater to the Rewastico Creek system, already burdened by the relatively small but also inadequately treated wastewater from the existing town. We feel this represents one of the most serious environmental threats to the Nanticoke Watershed in many years.

Lack of support for this Hebron plan has been voiced across a wide spectrum. The Wicomico County Council (expressed clearly in a meeting with Town officials on August 4, 2009) and County Executive have made clear that this project does not meet the County’s growth objectives, as is also plainly indicated in the most recent Wicomico County Water and Sewer Plan. The vast majority of citizens who have spoken at public hearings on the issue have also made their opposition known. The Friends of the Nanticoke have joined these citizens and, working with several strong environmental partners, we have been active in presenting constructive alternatives to the Town, and when these were ignored, in opposing its rezoning actions in the courts. Our environmental coalition (the Lower Shore Conservation Group), through our regular communication, diversity of skills, connections with community leaders, and experience working together, are eager to carry this effort forward to a positive outcome. »go to top

History

The Town of Hebron in Wicomico County is located about eight miles to the northwest of Salisbury and has a current population of approximately 800 and slightly more than 300 dwelling units, as detailed in the 2007 version of the Hebron Comprehensive Plan. It was formed as a farming center a little over 100 years ago. The total acreage in the Town limits, including a fair amount of undeveloped land, has been 337 acres since 1995.

The 400-acre Waller Landing farm is bordered by U.S. Route 50, MD Rt. 347, Rewastico Creek (a tributary of the Nanticoke River) and Porter Mill Road. While it is adjacent to the Hebron corporate limits, it is not adjacent to developed land in the municipality and is physically separated from it by the Creek and its wooded banks and wetlands (see map below). This large farm, with productive agricultural soils, and no dwellings or other improvements, was purchased by a Worcester County developer who quickly obtained annexation into Hebron in January 2005 over substantial citizen opposition. As soon as annexation was obtained, he sold the property to its current owners, Porter Mill Properties, LLC at a ten-fold profit margin. The current owner has the property for sale and is anxious to obtain zoning approval to add to the sale price. The property’s annexation more than doubled the size of the Town to 790 acres.

After annexation, Wicomico County declined to approve re-zoning of the property. That denial initiated the five-year waiting period for rezoning required by state law. During the five year period, the Town, funded by the developer, hired special counsel and a planner and developed a new Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2007, with a more recent draft pending approval. They designed a floating zone ordinance and proposed to implement a planned neighborhood development concept for Waller Landing. While much of the process of the Town has been visible at public meetings, little input was sought and, when public input was permitted, adverse comments from the County, Town residents, MD Department of Planning, Friends of the Nanticoke River, Wicomico Environmental Trust and others were put aside.

Throughout the process, the Friends of Nanticoke River, in the interests of Rewastico Creek and of the residents bordering the Creek, participated in the public review of proposed development, with suggestions for a more reasonable growth process and objections to the proposal. Concerns raised by the Friends of the Nanticoke and by public agencies include the absence of any provision for waste water treatment, the already overcrowded school conditions in the area, and the complete lack of other municipal facilities that a development of this size would require.

The current Town system for sewage treatment is a relatively primitive, lagoon settling and chlorination facility that discharges miles away into upper Rewastico Creek. The plant was constructed in the mid-1980’s after a lengthy legal challenge, and despite recommendations from the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene that alternatives to the proposed discharge merit further study. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also recommended reconsideration of the decision to discharge into the Creek. The plant is now operating at at least 85% capacity and is acknowledged by all (including the Town) to be inadequate for serving any portion of the proposed Waller Landing development. The system has also been recently cited for operational violations with a MD Dept. of the Environment administrative penalty assessment.

In March 2009, before the five year period required by state law had expired, the Town nonetheless approved a master plan for Waller Landing to include just under 1500 residential units, resulting in a 544% proposed increase of the population of the Town. The proposed area for the commercial portion of the property was increased to 53 acres and its nature and design changed from the originally proposed neighborhood business in a planned neighborhood development to big box highway commercial.

Wicomico County has since removed Hebron’s proposed sewage area from its comprehensive water and sewer plan draft, and the County Council has unanimously indicated to the Town that they do not propose to amend the water and sewer plan to include water and sewer service for the proposed development. The State Highway Administration has indicated that two controlled intersections would be necessary on U. S. Route 50 and a flyover entrance into the development would be required for westbound traffic on U.S. Route 50 to enter into Waller Landing. Those improvements would have to be paid for by the developer. The developer has not changed the plans for the new hearing, and thus they contain no provision for the flyover entrance.

The Friends of the Nanticoke River obtained experienced legal counsel (K. King Burnett, Esq. and Michael Pretl, Esq.) and together with local and nearby residents appealed the Town’s adoption of the Master Plan to the Circuit Court for Wicomico County. Six separate reasons were given for reversal of the decision.

After receiving written and oral arguments, Judge Donald C. Davis of the Circuit Court for Wicomico County reversed the decisions of the Hebron Commissioners in approving the Planned Neighborhood Application and Master Development Plan. In doing so, the Court cited three reasons for the decision, including that the Town proceeded by resolution rather than ordinance, that its findings of fact were inadequate, and that its refusal to record the proceedings made it impossible for the Court to properly review the decision. The Court declined to comment upon the other grounds for reversal.

In response, the Hebron Town Commissioners instructed their counsel to file an Appeal, which is pending. In addition, they determined to immediately hold another hearing which was held on April 26, 2010. At that hearing, a top representative of the Maryland Department of Planning, Rich Josephson, expressed that department’s serious objections to the Waller Landing plan, emphasizing that this expansion of residential growth would not be considered a Priority Funding Area (the new jargon for Smart Growth). Wicomico County’s Executive Rick Pollitt submitted a letter outlining his concerns and urging the Town to reconsider this project. John Cannon, speaking on behalf of the Wicomico County Council, reiterated the Council’s opposition to this plan. And Sheree Sample-Hughes, the Council member representing Hebron, called on Hebron to recognize the threat to agriculture that this project poses by removing 400 acres of prime farmland from production.

The Friends of the Nanticoke River were represented at the April 26th hearing by expert witness Larry Duket, formerly of the Maryland Department of Planning, who spoke for some time about the legal and substantive errors in the Town’s proceedings. Our legal counsel, King Burnett, also supported this contention, and together they laid the groundwork for another appeal as this proposal continues to go forward.»go to top

Position of the Friends of the Nanticoke River

It is our belief that this development is premature, contrary to the Wicomico County Comprehensive Plan, not in conformity with the requirements of recently enacted House Bill 1141 (which now apply), or with good planning principles, and contrary to the Town’s own Comprehensive Plan and to its own Planned Neighborhood Development Ordinance. Other issues include whether use of a floating zone is appropriate, given the incompatibility of the development with the existing Town (including its relative size), and the fact that it avoids re-zoning in accordance with the change or mistake rule. The development also adversely affects two significant historical properties and imperils the water quality of Rewastico Creek. »go to top