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Group opposes density changes

August 07, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A Washington County group is circulating petitions in an attempt to stop the Washington County Commissioners from proceeding with density changes called for in the county's Comprehensive Plan.

The newly formed Citizens to Protect Rights says the density changes would unfairly devalue properties.

The county plan is to limit development in rural areas by reducing the number of housing units allowed on the land.

The commissioners are scheduled to discuss and vote on rezoning of county rural areas in the next few months, Commissioner William J. Wivell said Wednesday.

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Citizens to Protect Rights, made up of farmers, property owners and others, was formed in the past few months and has at least 40 members, group member John Shank, a former county commissioner, said Wednesday.

If Citizens to Protect Rights' attempt to stop the county through a petition is unsuccessful, its members may pursue taking the issue to referendum, member Thomas Firey Sr. said Wednesday.

The group does not have an alternative proposal to the county's, said Firey, who owns and operates a 230-acre farm near Cearfoss which has been in his family for more than 200 years.

"We don't have any answers yet. We are just in disagreement with what is happening," Firey said.

"The issue is really simple," Shank said. "I live right on the edge of the Urban Growth Area. Inside the Urban Growth Area, you are allowed to have four houses per acre while outside you will have one house for every five acres."

Shank said that as it now stands, one house is allowed per acre on that same land outside the growth area.

Shank said it is unfair that his property's density should change "just because I live beside that magic line."

Another group, Citizens for the Protection of Washington County, supports the density changes, which both sides refer to as "downzoning."

"We believe downzoning is a good plan. It should preserve the farmland," Citizens for the Protection of Washington County President Jim Laird said Wednesday.

More than 200 people have signed the petition being circulated by Citizens to Protect Rights, said Thomas Firey Jr., of Alexandria, Va., the son of Thomas Firey Sr.

The petition states: "My signature on this petition verifies that I oppose the County Commissioners' new downzoning because it will unfairly inflict more than $100 million in costs on the equity and property value of farmers and rural landowners. Any new land-use plan in Washington County must be equitable to all county citizens."

The petition has been available for people to sign at a booth at the Washington County Ag Expo, on the Internet at www.webdesign.kisite.com and is being circulated by group members and supporters.

If the county does not change its land-use plan, it should compensate landowners for their equity losses, according to the group's Web site, which also says the group is not pro-development.

Citizens to Protect Rights' literature states that the group "was formed by members of the Washington County farm community and rural landowners who believe that every citizen of Washington County who owns land should have the right to expect that local Government will: Protect the value of their land; not pass regulations and laws that inflict devaluation; respect the property owners rights to retain the value of their land; and respect the property owners right to utilize the land in their own best interests."

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