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Let's see an alternative

August 12, 2003

Last week The Herald-Mail reported that a Washington County group is circulating a petition in an attempt to stop the change in the housing density limits proposed in the county's new comprehensive plan.

However, a spokesman for the group Citizens to Protect Rights, said it has no alternative plan. We have long held that when an elected official says "no" to one idea, he or she must say "yes" to something else. The same applies to civic organizations.

Under the new plan, the number of homes allowed per acre would be reduced. For example, one home would be allowed for every five acres zoned agricultural. Currently one home per acre is allowed. The original proposal was one home per every 10 acres, but the County Commissioners compromised on the five-acre rule. One home per acre would be allowed in environmental conservation zones and one unit per 30 acres in preservation-zoned areas.

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Much has been made of the desire to preserve the county's farmland and its rural quality of life, but in truth the measure is also an attempt to control costs. That's because residential development does not normally provide enough tax revenue to cover the services it requires, like schools.

When new residential development occurs and the county incurs costs it cannot cover, those costs are spread out to the general taxpayer. If the county is lucky enough to have sufficient commercial and industrial development, the effect won't be as severe. If not, existing homeowners will see their taxes go up to cover the cost of new development.

Citizens to Protect Rights argues that its members' land values should not be arbitrarily devalued by government. The only alternative, however, is to place that financial burden on the developer.

Last month Robert Arch, the county's planning director, proposed a new development fee to cover the cost of adding space to overcrowded schools. Past county boards have hesitated to alienate the politically powerful development community, so this idea may not be feasible.

What's more likely is a compromise to spare the existing taxpayers by spreading the financial pain among those who stand to profit from land sales and development. How will that be done? We await a compromise proposal from Citizens to Protect Rights with great interest.

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