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Munson: County zoning proposal 'unconstitutional'

October 21, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson on Monday called the county's plan to limit growth in rural residential areas unconstitutional and said he hopes it will be challenged in court if approved.

"I don't want to be part of anything that's unconstitutional," Munson said in a phone interview. "If it gets enacted, I hope somebody does challenge it in court, and I hope they don't stop at the local courts."

Munson made the comments while being asked about another part of the plan that would limit the types of businesses allowed in rural areas.

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He said the county's proposal to reduce the number of homes being built in rural areas through rezoning is unconstitutional because he thinks it would take away the rights of some property owners to develop their land.

Munson said the proposal also would devalue land by reducing the number of homes allowed on it.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he wasn't sure whether the plan would be unconstitutional if approved, but that he thought it would result in legal action against the county.

"I do have real good reason to believe that it will be challenged in court," Wivell said.

Both Wivell and Munson said they receive many letters and phone calls daily regarding the proposal. Munson said the majority of his correspondence is from those opposed to the plan.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and commissioners Doris J. Nipps and James F. Kercheval could not be reached for comment Monday.

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.

Munson called the plan unfair because "not everybody wants to be in a growth area jammed up against a town home."

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.

Under the plan, one home would be allowed for every five acres of 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.

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.

The proposal has attracted hundreds to county public hearings, most of whom have stated it would be unfair to "rob" landowners and farmers of their equity - money they were counting on for retirement purposes or if they hit rough financial times.

Those who support the proposed rezoning plan said it's a necessary step to preserve the rural and historic characteristics of the county.

Wivell said he thinks the commissioners will form a panel to study the plan and make recommendations, which opponents of the rezoning suggested. He projected it would be about six months before the commissioners vote on the proposal.

Wivell said there were "a lot of things" in the plan that he wasn't impressed with, including the proposed densities and setbacks, which are required distances between properties.

Munson said he would not vote to approve the proposed rezoning plan.

"It's not right. It's not right at all," Munson said. "I'd love for something like this to go to the Supreme Court."

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