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The county's future is in planners' hands

July 16, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Wednesday night the Washington County government will hold a public hearing on the first update of its comprehensive plan since 1981. Anyone who cares about the future of this area should make it a point to attend.

During the 7 p.m. meeting at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, county officials will explain how the plan will direct growth for the next 20 years. The plan was shaped by input gathered at 13 public hearings, held to gain residents' ideas and 18 town meetings to get citizens' reaction to the finished product.

Although it contains a number of recommendations, including one that county government reuse existing historic buildings for office space, the most controversial is the one to increase the acreage required to build a house in certain districts.

Homebuilding in preservation districts would be limited to one per every 30 acres, down from the present one home per three acres. In conservation districts, the limit would go one home per two acres to one home per every 20 acres. In agriculture districts, the limit would go from one home per acre to one for every 10 acres.

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In response to criticism of those proposed limits, the planning staff added an incentive program that would relax the density requirements, in return for property owners' agreement to certain conditions.

In April, state officials expressed concern about that proposal, saying it would increase the density of development. Local planners defended it, saying it was necessary to help farmers whose land may lose some of its value as a result of the new plan.

The problem, then, is how to preserve county farmland without taking the value that farmers are counting on to finance their retirement.

To their credit, the current county commissioners tried, seeking a real-estate transfer tax, some of the funds from which would have funded farmland preservation. The county's General Assembly delegation rejected that, which means the commissioners will have to find another way to go.

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