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Rezoning decisions likely to be overruled

March 23, 2001

Rezoning decisions likely to be overruled



By DAN KULIN

dank@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council is expected to approve two rezoning requests Tuesday against the advice of the City Planning Commission.

It will be the first time since 1994 the city government has overruled a Planning Commission recommendation.

In both cases, the property owners are requesting commercial zoning classifications for properties zoned residential.

The council gave preliminary approval to the requests last month on a 5-0 vote after the Planning Commission recommended against them. Rezonings require two council votes to pass.

One of the properties is along South Potomac Street across from E. Russell Hicks Middle School, and is owned by the Bowman Group. No one spoke against the request at a January public hearing, although the council subsequently received a letter in opposition.

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The other request involves the Corner Pub at East Baltimore and South Mulberry streets and some adjacent property. Several Pub neighbors testified against the request at a January public hearing, and later submitted a petition signed by 20 people.

The council voted 4-1 last month to approve the request.

Since 1990 the council has voted on 38 rezoning requests. It has gone against the recommendation of the Planning Commission four times.

Commission Chairman Douglas S. Wright Jr. said the commission and the council shouldn't be expected to agree on every case.

"We appreciate that it's rare. ... I guess that means we're doing a decent job," Wright said.

He said when there is disagreement on a ruling, "I don't, and most of the commissioners don't get bent out of shape."

In three of the four cases in which there was disagreement, the council approved a rezoning that the commission recommended denying.

Those cases include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A 1990 case in which a Silver Spring, Md., company requested a change from residential to commercial zoning of 13.6 acres near Dual Highway and along Eastern Boulevard. A shopping plaza called the Centre at Antietam Creek has since been built on the property.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A 1993 case in which the owners of a Sheetz gas station on the corner of South Cannon Avenue and Dual Highway requested a rezoning for adjacent property on South Cannon Avenue. The Sheetz subsequently expanded.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A 1994 case in which the Bowman Group requested approximately 5.5 acres at the corner of South Potomac Street and East Oak Ridge Avenue be rezoned from residential to commercial. A Sheetz gas station has been built on the property.

In the fourth case, in 1991, the council denied a rezoning after the planning commission recommended approval. The request was to rezone less than 1 acre off Wood Street along the edge of the Fairgrounds from agricultural to residential use. The property has since been bought by the city and is part of Fairgrounds Park.

In one of the cases going before the council this week, the Bowman Group is asking that 11 acres off South Potomac Street next to the Sheetz store be rezoned commercial.

Wright said the commission recommended against Bowman's request because "we were concerned about the commercial activities encroaching inward."

Rezonings have to be based on either a mistake in the original zoning classification or a change in the neighborhood. Bowman representatives say their request is based on a change in the neighborhood.

Don Bowman said recently he has no specific plans for the property, but expects a retail business will go there.

The second request, from Antietam Tavern, is being made so the owner of the Corner Pub can expand and open a separate dining area.

The request is to rezone 154-158 S. Mulberry St., 202 E. Baltimore St. and 208-210 Frederick St. from residential to commercial.

"We thought that land should remain residential because there would be no buffer between this and the residents," Wright said.

Mary Egan, a resident of nearby King Street, spoke against the rezoning at a public hearing.

"I have nothing against the Corner Pub," she said. "It's the location. It is in a residential location no matter what they say."

Egan and other neighbors have argued the proposed rezoning and expansion would increase the noise level and worsen an already tight parking situation in the area.

The council's support of the rezoning is based on the property owner's contention that there has been a change in the character of the neighborhood.

Egan disputes that contention.

"I've lived in that neighborhood for 15 years and I see no change in the neighborhood," she said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, who cast the lone vote against the request, also said he hasn't seen a change in the neighborhood.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said the changes around the Bowman property are "very obvious." He cited Prime Outlets at Hagerstown, which is on the other side of Oak Ridge Drive.

He said the area around the Corner Pub "is pretty much commercial."

Councilman William M. Breichner said he had "mixed feelings" on the Corner Pub rezoning. He said he made up his mind after considering the number of businesses in that area.

"I don't like going against the Planning Commission's recommendations, but the ultimate authority is with the mayor and council," Breichner said.

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