ELKTON — In the shadow of the proposed Southfields planned-use development project is an unnamed neighborhood off Maloney Road, and there live residents that are pushing for more answers on what will come with it.
Specifically, residents like John and Cathy Guns want answers about what will move into the 3 million square-foot warehouse that’s planned for the area behind their house. John Guns and his siblings were among the first to build their houses on Enfield Road, when it was a quiet place, away from the bustle of Route 40.
Now, with “Say No to Southfields” signs staked in front yards, Cathy Guns said it’s obvious to anyone driving by that the neighborhood is heading in the wrong direction.
“People look at the sign, and think, ‘I don’t want to live there. They’re fighting something,’” she said. “Our property values have gone to hell since this started. I’ve talked to neighbors about it, and they say ‘It’s not why we moved here.’ Well, it’s not why we moved here [either].”
Southfields is a 630-acre mixed-use development that features houses, an apartment complex, retail sites and a sports park and three warehouses lead by Stonewall Capital principal Ray Jackson. At this time, Jackson’s partner engineering firm Morris & Ritchie hope to start construction on the warehouse in August, with goals of drawing in e-commerce tenants.
Since Southfields was announced last summer, the Guns and other neighbors have attended most of the community meetings and public hearings about the project, reiterating their concerns about what massive growth will do to their septic tanks and wells, the roads and quality of life.
But one thing that may be overlooked in the loud voices against the Southfields project is that these neighbors will have to live with the development, from start to finish.
“We’re talking about setting a box into an existing residential area, with Kensington Court on one side, Frenchtown and Maloney on another. This is going to impact hundreds of homes,” said John Conolly, a Sarah Drive resident that frequently speaks out against Southfields.
“This project is so massive, the impacts are going to be felt throughout the county, so it’s not really a county versus town issue. The county and the town have to work together to make it the best it can be and do what’s right, first and foremost, for the residents.”
‘It’s been peaceful’
As Elkton’s growth started around mainstays like the then-county administration building and courthouses and blossomed throughout the decades, land south of Route 40 and north of Frenchtown Road remained almost untouched by time.
Rose Brown, a resident of Frenchtown Road, remembers growing up in the same house where she lives today. When she moved in with her parents, Lorenzo and Mildred Alagia, in 1947, there was nothing around but trees and open land.
“There was nothing here but the Frenchtown Inn and that burned down at some point. But from Elkton to Chesapeake City, there was nothing. Just two lanes,” she told the Whig. “It was peaceful.”
After living in Salisbury with her family for a time, Brown came back to build a house next door to her parent’s home. At that point, her father had long since built five of the houses on Frenchtown Road for her sisters and eventual neighbors. But her mother wanted to downsize, so Brown ended up with her house.
“It’s been peaceful ever since. All the neighbors on that road are just lovely,” she said. “It’s a community you get ingrained in.”
John Guns has also watched south Elkton slightly change over the years, starting though his childhood. His grandfather, Joseph Ciampoli, owned much of the land around Maloney Road, including a farm and the Ciampoli Motel, which was behind what now is the abandoned Fox Hollow Coffee.
“As a kid, I used to be able to ride my bike up down Maloney Road and very rarely ever see a vehicle. Might see a tractor,” he said. “All this used to be dairy farms. Growing up, it was great. There was always something to do. Plenty of places to play, plenty of trouble to get into that we got into.”
Guns moved to various places in Elkton throughout his life, and once moved to Delaware for a time, but eventually settled back on Enfield Road, not far from his parents, who were able to help him raise his daughter. But very little has changed from the quiet country road he grew up on, save roughly two dozen houses that were built about 30 years ago, including the house John and Charlene Conolly moved into.
“It was all open country back then, much as it is still today,” John Conolly said. “The big field from Route 40 to Frenchtown was farmed, like it is today. The field behind the house was used for hay, baled for horses. We liked the idea of it being open and not so far away from Elkton.”
After Southfields was announced, many felt a sense of fear of what would happen next. As time went on, some of the residents grew frustrated that the county and town officials seemed to be in the know well before the residents who would be directly impacted.
“There’s a little bit of fear of change and what it’ll bring,” Charlene Conolly said. “I do get a little mad about it because I don’t want to be forced out of my home that we’ve built and enjoyed.”
From the perspective of people who live out of the direct Southfields area, Peter Klein and Jennifer Jonach of Town Point near Chesapeake City are concerned with the lack of answers Southfields planners have on its environmental impact.
The couple moved from New Jersey to the county after enjoying boating in the Chesapeake Bay. Comparatively, Jonach said that the Barnegat Bay was crowded and did not have the rich maritime history of community that the Eastern Shore had.
“My initial reaction about Southfields was that they wanted to turn this into Middletown, which grew very quickly,” she said. “Thinking about the infrastructure and what that means to impact the area. I see this simply, as a sign that development is headed this way.”
Development, in Klein’s eyes, means turning all the forested land and fields that Southfields will develop on into pavement. Compared to a large settling area where stormwater can be absorbed into the land, it will have to run off somewhere.
The struggle that both Klein and Jonach both face is that it’s hard to get neighbors on the outskirts of the Southfields project to realize that, like Middletown, this will change everything, Jonach said. Part of the problem is that most of their neighbors are part-time residents that have decided that at this point, it’s become a political issue.
“That’s the ongoing sales job for me is to convince them that whatever comes down the river isn’t divided by political party, it’s something we all have to deal with no matter what,” Klein said.
They’re not alone is struggling to get their story out. Cathy Guns said that from her experience out in Elkton, many people haven’t heard of Southfields. John Conolly said that south of the canal, outside of Elkton, the word is very limited.
“That’s been part of the problem. How this impacts the schools with the projected houses, that reaches all the way down the southern end to the Sassafras River,” Conolly said.
Step by step
Throughout the process, residents have met with Jackson, who many say has been transparent about how he plans to address runoff and traffic build-up on Route 213 that could come from Southfields.
But what comes next for many is working to make the project something that they could live with. The Conollys said there’s plenty of employment options to choose from compared to warehousing, which they view as too many negative impacts on traffic, pollution and quality of life.
“It’s about putting logic to the jobs concept,” John Conolly said. “The industrial aspect does not pass the common sense … Warehousing and distribution typically don’t pay the higher wages. And if the county is going to move forward, what we need is to bring jobs to the county that have better wages and benefits. I’m viewing this a marathon, not a sprint.”
For Jonach and Klein, it’s about accountability, for a project that emerged fully-formed “like a cicada,” with county and town officials backing it from the start for a developer with no ties to the community.
“The accountability is back to the town. The mayor and commissioners own whatever happens next,” Jonach said. “With the momentum with tax breaks for multiple years, how does that translate to the taxpayers of this county.”
“And the enterprise zones means is double and triple tax for profit for for for a guy from Baltimore,” Klein added.
The Guns will continue to press for more answers, in terms of effects on their property values and wallets. John Guns see promises made by Mayor Rob Alt to waive connection fees for water and sewer lines as somewhat lacking, since it costs money to decommission wells and septic tanks.
The previous iteration of Southfields included thousands of homes, but halted in 2008 when the test wells were dry. These days, some residents consulted Realtors who reportedly told them that their property values would take a hit when the project comes.
“Back then, we said that we were going to sell. We couldn’t get market value then, what’s it going to be now?” Cathy Guns said. “Nobody wants to live near that.”
John Guns, who watched the southern Elkton land that his grandfather owned, said that Southfields is incredibly personal for him and his neighbors.
“This is where you bought your house. I mean, we wouldn’t be involved with it if there wasn’t if it was just a monetary thing, if we could pick up and go when it’s done,” he said. “I just feel that the rich get richer and everyone else is going to pay for it.”