Family didn't expect opposition

July 07, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Martin family members didn't anticipate opposition when they requested residential rezoning for property they own off Keep Tryst Road, Robert Martin said.

"I saw the whole thing as a down-zoning," he said. "I thought houses would be better than a business. I've lost sleep over this.

"We're not trying to ruin the land. I go hiking on the (Appalachian) Trail and I don't want to pave over anything historic."


His mother, Sylvia Martin, and his brother, William Martin, are listed as property owners on the request to have about 23 acres rezoned from business general to residential suburban.

Frederick, Md.-based Buckeye Development has signed a contract that is contingent upon the land's residential rezoning, Martin said.

Subdivision plans include 34 single-family homes.

"I wouldn't sign off on a business or more than 34 houses," Martin said. "(The developer) sold me on it. He really thinks the subdivision will blend in, won't be too dense and will have natural buffers."

Robert Martin has power-of-attorney for his mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Medical expenses for her and other members of the large family - who for six years have traveled from their homes in northern Virginia and other parts of Maryland to care for Sylvia in her Keep Tryst Road home - prompted the Martin siblings to try to sell the land, Robert Martin said.

They were unsuccessful with its existing commercial zoning. Family members were told residential property would be more marketable, Martin said.

Mistaken zoning?

To be successful in their rezoning efforts, the Martins must demonstrate that the existing business general zoning for the acreage adjacent to their Hillside Motel was a mistake or that the character of the neighborhood has changed, and that the requested zoning is logical and appropriate, according to the county zoning ordinance.

The Martins, who bought the motel and adjacent land in 1980, cited a zoning mistake as the reason for their rezoning request.

Sylvia and Marlin Martin in 1983 petitioned to have the acreage adjacent to the motel rezoned from conservation to business general so they could expand their business, Robert Martin said. Conservation zoning restricts residential development to one house per three acres.

The Washington County Commissioners granted the rezoning request with the condition that development be limited to the motel and accessory uses.

The Martins never developed the land.

They now say the County Commissioners were wrong in tagging a condition onto the business general zoning because it restricts the permissible uses allowable under the zoning classification. The family's attorney cites as support a rezoning case the court subsequently overturned for that reason.

Tardy appeal claimed

But some opponents of the proposed rezoning say the Martins are nearly two decades too late in contesting the original rezoning as such appeals must be filed within 30 days of rezoning decisions, according to the county zoning ordinance.

"Though cast as a rezoning request, the applicant essentially seeks to appeal the 1983 rezoning decision," Harpers Ferry Conservancy Executive Director Paul Rosa wrote in a letter opposing the proposed rezoning.

Even if the Martins prove a zoning mistake, Rosa wrote, the remedy should be to remove the offending restriction rather than change the zoning classification.

Rezoning the land to residential suburban contradicts the county's vision for land use as outlined in the current comprehensive plan and tightened in proposed revisions to the plan, Rosa said.

"The rezoning request marches in the exact opposite direction of present policy initiatives," he wrote. "Residential suburban zoning is intended as a transitional zoning between urban growth areas and rural areas and not as an island of density at the southern tip of the county as is proposed here."

The County Commissioners must abide by land use guidelines in the comprehensive plan to make rezoning decisions, Commissioner Bert Iseminger said. In such cases, he said, the commissioners must strike a balance between preservation and private property rights.

Robert Martin said he thinks the commissioners will make the right decision.

"I kind of trust the system," he said.

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