ELKTON — After another round of questions and objections from frequent critics, the Elkton commissioners unanimously approved a floating planned use development zone for the Southfields project.
The floating PUD zone promotes a creative and cohesive use of residential and commercial uses within large tracts of land. Southfields, a development that includes a three-warehouse logistics park, a sports complex, and 1,511 townhomes, apartments and single family homes.
Mayor Rob Alt and the commissioner’s approvals signals the start of the planning process for Southfields. Frustrated, Commissioner Earl Piner reminded the dozens in the audience that there’s still time to work with the developer and solve outstanding questions.
“Please, let the project develop,” Piner said. “When it gets to the point where you really have to fight for it, fight for it. But don’t fight before it gets to that step because you don’t know what the problem is until it happens.”
So far, Southfields Developer Ray Jackson, principal of Stonewall Capital, has tweaked his early concept plan several times. Once Morris & Ritchie, Jackson’s engineering firm, submits the concept plan, it will then head to the Planning Commission to present a concept, preliminary and final plan for approval.
Jackson’s team plans on a staggered approval and construction process for Southfields divided in three phases, per the presentation on Wednesday night. But Elkton Planning Department officials said that one plan has been discussed at this point, which was later withdrawn so that Morris & Ritchie could make improvements.
Elkton Planning Director Jeanne Minner said that Jackson’s team is planning on filing one concept plan for the entire Southfields project and preliminary and final plans for each phase. That means there could be seven more hearings on the Southfields project.
The biggest change in plans in Southfields, which has been a moving target since its unveiling in August, is reducing the size of the PUD from 632 acres to 577 acres, completely removing critical area near the Elk River.
Morris & Ritchie principal Sean Davis requested flexibility when it came to the number of dwelling units because the proposed single family homes exceed Elkton’s lot requirements.
“We should come back and massage that narrow it down and pick up some more density,” Davis said.
Under the PUD ordinance, Southfields is required to have 25% of its land, or 144 acres, as open space. Within that requirement, 30% of the 144 acres — or 43.3 acres — must be for recreation. Southfields includes 67.9 acres for recreation, including a recreation center for the neighborhood and the 50-acre sportsplex.
Other Southfields proposals include a 125 room hotel, a daycare, senior living apartments, a gas and convenience store, and pads for restaurant sites.
Once again, critics and neighbors of the proposed Southfields came out in full-force and asked elected officials to say no to the PUD overlay zone. Many had appeared before the town Planning Commission last week protesting the three warehouses that will be built near Maloney Road.
John Connolly once again outlined a comprehensive argument against the PUD, focusing on the noise, light disturbance as well as the health impacts for those living near the industrial park. He also argued that the warehouses run counter to the PUD zoning ordinance, with no mention at all of industrial use.
“It does mention protecting the residential areas of the negative impacts of the adjacent non-residential development,” he said. “The last sentence of the ordinance states that non-residential uses should benefit the residents of the region. All the residents of the region deserve to have their views objectively considered.”
Other frequent Southfields critics like John Guns shared their concerns about what the development would do to the current base of well water and septic tanks. But his fears were also echoed by John Bilsak and Patricia Wells.
“I’m concerned that our wells will be drawn down and it will leave us high and dry – literally,” said Bilsak, who lives on Whitehall Road.”Building homes is great, I don’t see a way to stop that. But from a community perspective, we need to be very concerned about this industrial concept.”
Guns pointed out that his well was contaminated years ago, and wanted to ensure it would not happen again.
Mayor Rob Alt once again promised to bring water and sewer to these residents, but again reminded them they would need to pay for the lateral connection to tap in.
“We want something in writing to have us covered,” Guns said.
But others like Wells argued that it would still be an astronomical investment for those that have a simple life.
“We still have to pay to decommission the well, decommission the septic tank and to connect in. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars,” Wells told the board. “It’s not something we asked for. I moved here for peace and quiet. I didn’t put my house in front of someone else’s house for a reason.”
Others raised questions about traffic and the possibility of redistricting schools for the influx of families Southfields hopes to draw.
Attempting to assuage these concerns, Alt said that there was a traffic impact study conducted and Morris & Ritchie are moving forward with the State Highway Administration on next steps. The mayor also said that he would be meeting with top officials at Cecil County Public Schools shortly to discuss what steps forward are needed to prepare the school system.
But after the vote, Piner once again was visibly emotional about the criticisms the board faced. Many of these questions about the traffic and environmental impact he said, would be handled by federal and state regulators.
“The concerns you have right now about the industrial park. We’re not saying yes to it, we’re not saying no to it. We’re listening to you because you have as much concern about your property as I do mine,” he said.
Commissioner Charlie Givens agreed, noting that there has to be a chance for the plan to unfold.
“You got to give this a chance to grow to see exactly what kind of problems we’re going to have,” Givens said. “ We don’t know what’s going to happen going forward. Thank you for participation.”
Commissioner Jean Broomell and Rob Massimano thanked the persistent people for continuing to speak out. Broomell added she did have concerns with the previous iteration of Southfields with thousands of homes.
But now, she said she was excited with the project because of more controlled growth under the regulations outlined in the PUD.
“It’s more controlled in this area than we could have ever hoped for,” she said.
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