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Saying 'no' to developers won't bring disaster to city

June 20, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Some members of the Hagerstown City Council had the right idea about the 706-unit development proposed behind the Centre at Hagerstown. Unfortunately, they weren't in the majority. Local government has to stop treating developers as if they'll go away of they don't get everything they want.

What the Eldersburg, Md.-based Rachuba Group wanted for its development was 203 single-family homes, 261 townhouses and 242 two-story apartments.

It was the request for apartments that upset Councilmembers Penny Nigh and Kris Aleshire. They rightly argued that the city already has too many rental units, and that approving more on the fringe of the city would discourage those who might be tempted to renovate center-city properties.

In fact, properties in the city's core has deteriorated over the years because as developers built new rental units in the fringe, the city never enacted a rental-property inspection program, even though many Maryland cities, including Cumberland, have such programs.

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Approving more rental units on the fringe of the city while doing nothing to ensure apartments in the center are livable means that the council is writing off the city's core. Whether or not that's what they meant to do, that's the message the three council members who voted for Rachuba's project as presented have sent.

Given that the project was a Planned Unit Development, which means that the developer was asking to bend zoning's rules a bit in exchange for some concessions on his part, the council could have negotiated for fewer apartments or none.

If they'd insisted on no apartments, would the developer have gone away? With a moratorium in effect in Frederick, probably not. But even if Rachuba had gone, there would soon be someone else lining up to do business here.

If the council doesn't insist on what it knows is best for the city, it will get whatever the developers want to provide. The citizens who have to live with these decisions need to insist that the council not cave in next time.

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