County extends moratorium on development

May 14, 2003|by TARA REILLY

The ban on major development in Washington County's rural areas will continue for up to six more months, the County Commissioners agreed Tuesday.

The Washington County Commissioners decided not to lift the moratorium, which has been in place for six months, until the county rewrites the zoning ordinance to control growth in agricultural areas.

"I personally would like to drop the moratorium, but for the overall good of the county, I think we ought to let it run," Commissioner John C. Munson said.


The moratorium prevents the building of residential subdivisions on more than five lots, on land outside the designated Urban or Town Growth areas, where growth is encouraged.

Eight subdivisions involving a total of 313 lots have been put on hold since the moratorium went into effect late last year.

"I guess we're disappointed," Debi Turpin, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Washington County, said in a phone interview after the commissioners' meeting. "The small builder and developer are the ones who are going to get left out."

Those in the home building industry have opposed the moratorium since it was passed at the end of last year, saying it would harm the livelihood of small builders and drive up the cost of land.

Turpin said large developers will buy most of the land where development is allowed, leaving small builders with few places to develop.

Preservationists asked the commissioners last week to keep the moratorium in place until the county's zoning ordinance is rewritten.

The updated zoning ordinance will be a part of the Comprehensive Plan, which the commissioners adopted late last year to preserve farmland and to control and direct development to growth areas.

The plan limits development in rural areas by reducing the number of housing units allowed on the land.

Citizens for the Protection of Washington County said the moratorium was necessary to preserve the county's agricultural landscape.

"I think it was a good move on the part of the County Commissioners," Citizens for the Protection of Washington County member Jim Laird said Tuesday night by phone. "I believe they all put a lot of thought into it and made the right decision."

"I feel the decision today is definitely taking us in the correct direction," member Elizabeth Vahey said in a phone interview.

Vahey said she didn't think the home building industry was being harmed by the moratorium, because it doesn't apply to all development.

"They can still build small subdivisions, so that isn't harming business," she said. "And it's only in rural areas. I see construction trucks everywhere. They're still working."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he would like the county to consider creating a program to compensate landowners whose property has lost value, because of limitations on the number of homes that could be built on it.

He said the county could allow the agricultural landowners to establish development rights on their property, and then sell those rights to developers. The developers would then be able to transfer those rights to areas where major growth is allowed and build more units on that land.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he was concerned about the future of the eight subdivisions that have been put on hold indefinitely because of the moratorium.

"I think these people deserve a clear answer...," Kercheval said.

The commissioners will discuss the eight subdivisions next Tuesday.

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