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Study finds downzoning does not decrease land value

February 07, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Preserving farmland by reducing the number of homes allowed in agricultural areas either had no effect on or raised land values in "downzoned" areas, according to a recent study, information contrary to what opponents of such a move have argued in Washington County.

County residents will have a chance to hear the results of the study Tuesday night.

The Washington County Commissioners are sponsoring a public meeting to be held at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

One of the study's authors, Sarah J. Taylor Rogers, research associate for the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology Inc, will make the presentation.

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Rogers will hold a question-and-answer session after the presentation.

The report was completed in December 2003 by a team of environmental, agricultural and other experts.

The study was funded by the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology Inc. and by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of Maryland.

The commissioners are considering limiting the number of homes allowed in agricultural zones to preserve farms and open space.

One of the county plan's goals is to redirect growth to designated growth areas. Much of the growth areas are in and around Hagerstown.

The proposal to rezone, part of the county's Comprehensive Plan, has drawn opposition from hundreds in the county who think downzoning would reduce the equity of their land.

The study compared land values of four counties in Maryland that had reduced the number of homes allowed in certain areas, also called downzoning, with four counties that had not.

The results showed that land values in the downzoned counties - Dorchester, Kent, Calvert and Talbot - had not appeared to decrease, and in some cases, the value increased, according to the study.

Those counties were compared to Somerset, Queen Anne's and Charles counties, which had not downzoned.

Under Washington County's 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.

Jim Laird, of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County (CPWC), said the study affirms what many members of CPWC have thought.

"Most of the people in my organization believe, at least, it would not be a real serious loss (of land value)," Laird said. "I really don't think there would be a big loss - if there is devaluation."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said, by sponsoring the meeting, the commissioners only would be presenting one viewpoint to the public.

Wivell said he thought guests presenting the pros and cons of rural rezoning should have been invited to the meeting.

"I'm very disappointed in that," Wivell said. "It's basically nothing but propaganda."




What: The Washington County Commissioners will hold a public meeting on rural rezoning in the county.

When: Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Where: Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater

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