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New zoning category eyed for Fort Ritchie

September 02, 1998|By MATTHEW BIENIEK

Zoning for Fort Ritchie must be changed before it can be developed into a technology and training center, county Planning Director Bob Arch told the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Arch proposed creation of a new zoning classification - special economic development district - just for the military base. A public hearing would be required to change the county zoning law to add the new designation, Arch said.

"Because the area is not zoned for it, you can't buy or sell property," said Robert P. Sweeney, executive director of the Pen Mar Development Corporation.

The base, which is to close Oct. 1, is zoned for conservation, he said.

"The current designation is obviously not appropriate to the redevelopment plan," said Arch.

While the federal government retains control of the base, county zoning is preempted. Once the base is turned over to the county on Oct. 1, county zoning goes into force.

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"The main consideration is that we have a variety of mixed uses together in a close space," he said.

The design of the base requires a special classification to allow for development without significant delays, he said. Using any existing zoning classifications for the fort would result in time-consuming hearings to allow nonconforming uses.

"The design of the fort would require numerous exceptions - for instance, on setback requirements for buildings," he said.

If approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals, the proposed zoning designation would allow limited manufacturing. Sweeney said original plans for redevelopment would not permit manufacturing.

"But is software development manufacturing?" he asked.

Sweeney said the zoning should be flexible enough to allow small-scale manufacturing.

Allowed under the proposal would be factories for the manufacture and assembly of electronic, communications, scientific, photographic, or optical products and equipment.

The conservation designation was given to Fort Ritchie in 1972, when zoning began in the county, said Arch.

The County Commissioners unanimously voted to hold a public hearing on Sept. 21 during a joint meeting between the county commissioners and planning commission.

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