Commissioners address growth, new construction

June 19, 2002|by TARA REILLY

The vice president of the Washington County Commissioners called Tuesday for a halt to new development while the commissioners decide whether to take measures that would limit growth.

Any such measures would be included in the county's comprehensive plan.

Vice President Paul Swartz said the moratorium on development is necessary because the county has begun to see an increase in applications from property owners who want their land developed before the changes take place.

"So many are trying to get in under the gun ... and that bothers me," Swartz said. "Once they get in there, they're in."


Planning Director Bob Arch said a moratorium might be something to consider if the county becomes overburdened with requests from property owners to develop their land before the comprehensive plan is approved.

Arch said that despite a number of large developments that were proposed at about the same time, the number of requests for new homes is under control and the planning department would not recommend a moratorium at this time.

Last year, the county had about 750 requests. It normally receives about 600 a year, Arch said.

Commissioner Bert Iseminger said the numbers don't support a moratorium at this time.

"Right now, the numbers don't even come close to justifying that," Iseminger said.

He said that most of the growth in the county is happening inside the Urban Growth Area, a government-designated area where development is encouraged.

Joe Lane, a member of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County, said after the meeting that the group supports a moratorium on development.

"There is just a lot of big development happening," Land said. "Development is a drag on the finances and quality of life in the county."

Lane said increased development increases school enrollments and traffic, among other concerns.

"There's a lot going on," he said. "This county has never seen this kind of growth, and it's just starting."

The commissioners have been debating whether to change density limits allowed for agricultural, conservation and preservation zones.

Under the proposed density levels, development in areas outside the Urban Growth Area would be limited to one house per 10 acres in the agricultural zone, one house per 20 acres in the conservation zone and one house per 30 acres in the preservation zone, according to a statement from county spokesman Norman Bassett.

Some farmers have argued that approving the density changes would lower the property values of their land if they needed to sell it because of financial hardships or to finance their retirement.

Commissioner William Wivell said he was struggling to support the proposed changes without a program in place that would compensate farmers for land value losses.

"If it's an individual's property ... they should have a right to do with that property as they see fit," Wivell said.

Iseminger said he supported the proposals in the comprehensive plan, for now.

"I think what the staff has done ... the density that they're looking at ... best serves this community," he said.

Iseminger said his opinion, as well as some proposals, might change after the commissioners hear views from the public next month.

"I think we're a long way from adopting the final plan," he said.

The hearing will be held in mid-July at Hagerstown Community College. A date has not yet been determined.

Arch said that no matter what the commissioners approve, not everybody in the county will be happy with the decision.

"I would not say that this plan is for everyone," he said. "One size does not fit all."

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