Developers could proceed with a plan to build nearly 160 townhouses in southwest Frederick -- unless the city takes the property for a community park first.

On Monday, Frederick's Planning Commission voted 4-0 to approve the final site plan for 158 townhouses on the Hargett Farm property.

This is one part of a larger project that could include single-family homes, apartments and a retail center on roughly 150 acres on Butterfly Lane. In all, the project will include more than 640 homes.

Whether this development will ever be built is uncertain, as Frederick's Board of Aldermen voted in May to condemn the property through eminent domain and redevelop it as a park. The condemnation still must be resolved in court.

Alderman Alan Imhoff, who recused himself from the condemnation vote, citing his position on the planning commission, voted Monday to approve the site plan.

At the start of the hearing, commission member Meta Nash reminded the attendees that the aldermen's decision has no effect on the property owner's legal right to pursue development of the property.

Although the hearing lasted roughly an hour, the commissioners attached few substantive conditions to the plan's approval.

In response to questions from Imhoff, Nash and city staff, the developers will detail in what order they will build roads and other infrastructure.

Imhoff also questioned a 30-student-per-year cap that will be used to limit the number of homes per year the developer can build.

Under that system, each type of home the developer plans to build -- townhouse, single-family or apartment -- is estimated to add a certain number of students to the school system. The developer can build a mix of home types, so long as the number of new students each year doesn't exceed the cap.

Normally, the city uses a set limit on the number of homes that can be built each year, Imhoff said. This system, which Imhoff said he hasn't seen in his years on the commission, could be complicated to administer. Alternatively, he said, using numbers from when the agreement was made in 2004 to estimate how many students a type of new home adds could make it inaccurate.

Frederick County Public Schools, however, has no problems with using the student cap system, said Ray Barnes, the system's executive director of facilities services.

Using the older numbers, he said, actually helps the school system, as lately, the trend has been for new homes to add slightly fewer students than in past years.

Still awaiting planning commission approval are the developer's plans for the apartments and retail center.

Jerry Connelly, senior vice president of Pleasants Development Inc., which is involved in developing the property, said he didn't know when his company might submit those plans to the commission.

Only one member of the public commented at Monday's hearing.

The Rev. William Graham, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church, said his church and the developers were working on an agreement. It would have the development pay for part of an entrance to Swallowtail Drive, which the church had to build, but future residents will use.

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