Commissioner hopefuls share views on growth

July 28, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Voters who believe new development is needed to boost the local tax base or that new construction should be stopped altogether for Washington County to avoid becoming "another Frederick County" are bound to find a County Commissioners candidate or two with whom to identify.

Land use and education promise to be the top issues in this year's election.

Staunch views in favor of and against growth - and just about every shade of gray in between - are represented among the 21 candidates.

Some of the candidates vying for the five open seats advocate a moratorium on development until the county's revised comprehensive plan and associated zoning ordinances and other regulations are adopted. The comprehensive plan establishes guidelines for managing growth and development over the next 20 years.


Other candidates say the county's rate of development doesn't support such action. Some say more development is needed to increase the county's tax base.

Some candidates endorse the right of property owners to develop their land however they choose. They say proposed zoning density restrictions that drastically reduce the development allowed on nearly one-quarter million acres outside the county's designated urban and town growth areas will drive down property values, perhaps forcing farmers out of business.

These candidates say farmland is both collateral and pension. Farmers can borrow against their property's value or sell parcels of land to obtain needed cash in tough times or to help fund their retirement - a safeguard that might make farmers more willing to stick with an increasingly risky business.

Some candidates support limiting development, but not at the expense of farmers.

Others say the need to conserve land trumps private property rights. They say the zoning restrictions should be adopted to protect rural values and preserve farmland.

Development curbs

Democratic candidate Kurt Redenbo advocates major changes to the county's planning system to curb over-development that he says eventually will overburden roads and schools and erode the county's rural nature.

Redenbo supports adopting proposed zoning density restrictions. He would back spending more money to pay farmers for farmland preservation easements, but he is opposed to incentive programs that would ease restrictions for landowners who agree to criteria such as having visual buffers along roads and using historic easements.

"I think it's really a convenient excuse to open up those lands to further development," said Redenbo, 42, of Hagerstown. "To me, that's business as usual."

He said he is pushing for a more open county planning process to ensure citizens are clearly and quickly informed of development plans and that their will is fairly represented through the actions of county planning officials.

County officials promote development by approving too many zoning changes and exceptions, he said.

Republican Wally McClure agreed that county officials have granted too many rezoning requests and special exceptions, fueling what he calls "explosive growth" in Washington County.

"They basically want to approve everything. We need people who will say 'no,' " said McClure, 51, of Hagerstown. "You can look right into Frederick and see what's going to happen here."

Frederick cited

Frederick County's population has increased by 30 percent and the city's population has grown by about 31 percent in the last decade, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Washington County has grown by 8.6 percent since 1990.

Frederick's rapid growth has outpaced the city's water supply. Former Mayor James S. Grimes last March effectively halted new construction when he declared a moratorium on new plat recordations until the water shortage is resolved.

Frederick developers already are targeting real estate in southern Washington County, McClure said.

"It's like an invasion of Pleasant Valley is going to start occurring. It looks like an attack on the southern flank," he said.

McClure plans to "take a serious look" at impact fees to determine if growth can be better controlled by holding developers financially accountable for the effects their projects have on such services as schools and roads, he said.

Impact fees are funds collected from developers to offset the costs of new services needed in specific areas affected by development.

The county already has the authority to implement the fees, but a consultant study needs to be done before fee amounts are set. There are strict limits on how the funds can be used.

To keep new development from encroaching on the county's natural resources, McClure supports tearing down older buildings in Hagerstown to make room for new structures.

He was not familiar enough with zoning density restrictions proposed in the county's revised comprehensive plan to comment on how they might limit development, McClure said.

Targeted growth

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