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Commission leans toward moratorium

October 02, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday accepted a draft ordinance that would prevent large residential developments from being built in rural areas for a year.

A final vote on the proposed ordinance might be taken by the end of next month, county officials said.

If the commissioners give final approval, the moratorium would apply to residential subdivisions consisting of six or more lots on land outside the Urban or Town Growth areas, County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

The growth areas are places where development is encouraged, county officials said.

The moratorium would not apply to subdivisions that have been accepted for filing by the planning department. It would, however, apply to developers who have preliminarily discussed their plans with the department but whose plans have not yet been accepted for filing, County Commisioner Bert Iseminger said.

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The county will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in Courtroom 1 of the Washington County Courthouse.

A final vote could come at an Oct. 29 County Commissioners meeting, according to county documents.

The commissioners said the drought and an increase in residential developments in rural areas that depend on wells are threatening the availability of groundwater.

Don Schwartz, county Agricultural Extension Agent, has said wells in Oak Ridge, Sandy Hook, Mount Aetna, Cascade and Boonsboro have dropped over the past month.

As of Sept. 9, the number of replacement wells in the county was at 117, compared to 91 as of Sept. 9, 2001, according to Washington County Health Department documents.

Iseminger said if the county doesn't take steps to limit growth now, taxpayers will foot the bill for overdevelopment and water shortages later on.

"I don't think the taxpayers of this county should be expected to pay for these problems," Iseminger said. "Right now, good planning tells you you better start erring on the side of caution, or it could potentially start costing you."

Washington County Planning Director Robert Arch said the county has been seeing an increase in developments scattered throughout rural areas.

Douglas said the moratorium would direct development to land inside the growth areas.

County officials have said that directing development to the growth areas would help preserve farmland and Washington County's agricultural industry.

Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz, who has been pushing for the moratorium for months, said the proposed ordinance is a step in the right direction.

"I don't think any of us are sitting here saying we're anti-development ... but you have to think down the road," Swartz said.

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