Zoning opponents speak

October 09, 2003|by TARA REILLY

Residents opposed to Washington County's proposal to limit growth in rural areas turned out in force again Wednesday night, claiming the plan is unfair and would rob landowners of their equity.

At least 200 people attended a joint public hearing with the County Commissioners and the Washington County Planning Commission at South Hagerstown High School.

The hearing was a continuance from last month's hearing, at which so many people signed up to speak that they could not be heard in one night.


Most of those in attendance at both hearings were against the plan, which would rezone more than 250,000 acres in rural areas. About 60 people spoke at last month's meeting, and about 50 voiced their opinions Wednesday night.

The goal of the rezoning proposal is to reduce the number of new homes allowed in rural areas and direct growth to designated growth areas.

Much of the growth area is in and around Hagerstown.

The proposed zoning changes are part of the county's Comprehensive Plan, which the commissioners adopted in August 2002.

The commissioners must approve the proposed rezoning before any changes can take place.

Most who spoke Wednesday night said the proposal would decrease property values - money they were counting on for retirement purposes or if they were to come upon rough financial times.

Others opposed to the proposal called it a spinoff of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth program, which aimed to curb urban sprawl by encouraging redevelopment of existing urban areas.

"Where did the (county's) plan come from? I don't think it originated here in Washington County," property owner and businessman Gene Albert said. "The people of Washington County wouldn't come up with this."

"If you can find Glendening, that's where it came from," Albert said.

The zoning changes were proposed to preserve the county's agricultural land and industries, to save tax dollars on infrastructure improvements and to protect environmentally sensitive areas and the historic and rural character of the county, according to a county document.

Under the plan, one home would be allowed for every five acres on land with an agricultural zoning. For example, a property owner with 100 acres in an agricultural zone would be able to build 20 dwelling units. Currently, one home per acre is allowed in the agricultural zone.

The plan would allow one home per 20 acres in land zoned environmental conservation and one home per 30 acres in preservation zones. Both designations are new.

Eben Conner of Big Pool said the rezoning proposal would prevent him from giving his children land on which to build their homes. He said it also would devalue his property by reducing the number of homes allowed on the land.

"I don't think that the county has that right to steal that value away from me," Conner said. "You should vote down this zoning proposal and ... put it up for a referendum to the people of the county."

Somerville Nicholson called the plan "an atrocity" that would be vulnerable to a court challenge if it were approved.

Less than 10 people spoke in favor of the rezoning, saying it would preserve agricultural areas and keep Washington County from being overrun with growth.

One woman who said she supported the proposal at last month's meeting was booed by the crowd, which resident James DeVine called appalling Wednesday night.

"I see fear and greed in this issue - the fear of the unknown," DeVine said.

Washington County resident Michael Carney commended county officials for drafting the proposal.

"I support the plan. I think it's wonderful," said Carney, who came from Prince George's County. "When I saw Washington County, I saw a good thing. And I hope it stays that way."

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