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Building moratorium divides hearing crowd

October 18, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A Smithsburg home builder told the Washington County Commissioners on Thursday night that a proposed moratorium on rural residential development in the county is based on a lie and would financially harm those in his business.

Douglas Bachtell of Smithsburg was among 150 people who attended a public hearing on the proposed one-year moratorium at the Washington County Courthouse. The 27 people who spoke were about evenly divided over the moratorium.

The moratorium would apply to residential subdivisions of six or more lots on land outside the designated Urban or Town Growth areas where growth is encouraged. It would not apply to the issuance of building permits, Planning Director Robert Arch said.

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It also would not apply to subdivisions that have been accepted for filing by the planning department.

It would apply to developers who have had preliminary discussions with the planning department but whose plans have not been accepted for filing, Commissioner Bert Iseminger has said.

Residents who favor the moratorium said the drought and the building of new developments in rural areas have caused low ground water supplies and the drying up of wells. Continuing to build in rural areas would make the problem worse, they said.

Bachtell, a builder for more than 20 years, said those claims were lies and that there is not a shortage of ground water in the county.

He said he arrived at his conclusion after speaking with officials about the matter.

"If this goes through and affects me financially, I'll be the first in line to litigate this matter," Bachtell said.

Those in the home-building industry argued that the moratorium would decrease business and cause financial hardships.

Debi Turpin, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Washington County, said the majority of the association's members oppose the moratorium.

Fred Frederick, an engineer, said the moratorium would take work away from plumbers, carpenters and others in the building industry.

He also said he had information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that indicated the county's drought was not serious. His comment drew laughter from the audience.

Hagerstown resident Kurt Redenbo, who supports the moratorium, made light of Frederick's drought comment.

"I'm thrilled to hear the drought is over," Redenbo said. "I guess I'm going to go home and blame my dog for the condition of our lawn."

County resident Hank Livelsberger said the commissioners should approve the moratorium to protect average citizens living in rural areas. She said the developers will continue to "exploit" farmland without the moratorium.

"If the commissioners do not protect "John Q rural resident" from organized land pirates, who will?" Livelsberger asked. "Do the developers have to take this rural land and contaminate our wells with their septic system?"

Roger Worthington, president of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County, said the commissioners should pass the moratorium to control growth, which would help preserve the history and rural atmosphere of the county.

"Developers have to think more about what they're doing to Washington County," Worthington said.

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