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Citizens group seeks rezoning referendum

August 29, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HUYETTS - Members of Citizens to Protect Rights say they have convinced more than 1,000 people in three weeks to sign a petition that would force a public referendum on a county rezoning plan the group is against.

But the 50-plus people who attended a CPR meeting Thursday at the Wilson Ruritan club near Huyetts will have to convince more than 2,000 additional people to join their fight to have the issue placed on an election ballot.

Thomas A. Fiery said a County Commissioners' Proposed Comprehensive Rezoning plan, which will decrease the ability to develop on rural parcels in many areas of the county, will hurt farmers and rural land owners while staving off development.

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Fiery, a Springfield, Va., resident whose family owns and operates a 230-acre farm near Cearfoss that has been in the family for more than 200 years, said CPR believes the rezoning would severely reduce the value of these properties and have a crippling financial impact on its owners.

"What people seem to be ignoring is downzoning has a cost," he said. "The cost is pushed onto the farmers and the rural land owners for the benefits of suburbanites and owners of land in development areas."

Gerry Ditto said the planned rezoning would hurt even those who do not have land to sell to developers. Ditto said rezoning would cause a sharp drop in the amount of the fair market value of any property because development potential is a factor in the value.

"Our fair market value would go down drastically," Ditto said.

CPR launched a campaign at the Ag Expo earlier this month to obtain 3,464 signatures for a petition that would force a referendum - a public vote - on the issue of downzoning.

The county's plan would limit development capabilities in rural areas by reducing the number of housing units allowed on the land. Some groups, including the Citizens for the Protection of Washington County, have come out in support of the plan, saying downzoning would preserve farmland and prevent overdevelopment.

The County Commissioners are to hold a public hearing on the rezoning issue on Sept. 15 at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College. Members of CPR said they hope to have hundreds, perhaps thousands, attend that hearing.

The commissioners are to vote on the rezoning of county rural areas in the next few months, Commissioner William J. Wivell said in early August.

CPR members say such a move would cost rural land owners and farms more than $100 million in equity and property value.

Andy Stone, who owns a 600-plus acre farm south of Boonsboro, said the rezoning did not make sense because his property, part of which is inside the Agricultural Zone, is within feet of the Urban Growth Zone that allows for more houses per acre.

Fiery said CPR supporters need to work hard to educate those who are unaware of the county's plan.

Charles Ernst said the plan would impede landowners' freedom to use their land as they saw fit.

Ernst said that, if adopted, the rezoning plan would make it difficult for owners of small parcels of land to allow their children to build homes on the properties.

He also suggested the rezoning could drive local people out of the area to seek more affordable property in places like Berkeley County, W.Va., and Franklin County, Pa.

"They're going to sell the big lots, and they're not going to sell them to local people," he said.

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