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Results of downzoning study shared with public

February 11, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Sarah Taylor Rogers said her gut instinct told her the impact of downzoning would result in a decrease of property values.

Upon completing a study that compared Maryland counties that had downzoned with those that had not, Taylor Rogers said the findings were not what she had expected.

According to the study, downzoning - restricting the use of land, typically by reducing the number of homes allowed per acre - either had no effect on, showed little depreciation on or, in some instances, increased land values.

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"I was very surprised at the results of this study," Taylor Rogers told a crowd of about 60 people Tuesday night at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater. "My gut told me there would be a devaluation of property."

Taylor Rogers, research associate for the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology Inc., presented the study at the request of the Washington County Commissioners.

The county commissioners are considering whether to downzone more than 250,000 of the county's rural acres to protect farmland from development.

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.

It compared land values of four counties where downzoning occurred - Dorchester, Kent, Calvert and Talbot - with Somerset, Queen Anne's and Charles counties, which had not downzoned.

Washington County property owners have argued that rezoning rural areas would decrease their equity - money they were counting on for retirement or in financial emergencies.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and resident David Herbst questioned why some counties that downzoned also have implemented programs that compensate landowners for forcing the use restrictions on their property.

"Doesn't that admit that there's a negative impact?" Wivell asked.

Those programs included approving the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) and Installment Purchase Agreements (IPAs.)

TDRs allow landowners to establish development rights on their properties. Those rights are sold to developers, who then can transfer those rights to areas where major growth is allowed and build more units.

The original property is protected from development.

IPAs compensate property owners in payment installments for the restricted use of their land.

"If downzoning did not decrease the value/equity of the land, why would they ... give that kind of money to the landowners?" Herbst asked.

Herbst is a member of the recently appointed task force that will study parts of Washington County's rezoning plan.

Taylor Rogers said officials she interviewed from other Maryland counties that offer such programs did so to give property owners more options in deciding the future of their land. It wasn't because officials saw devaluation of land, she said.

Robin Biser of Cascade said after the meeting she thought downzoning would be a positive move for landowners in agricultural areas.

"I believe that downzoning ultimately, in the long run, maintains your property value," Biser said. "When you chunk up land over the long haul, you lose your value."

Washington County's proposed rezoning plan is intended to protect farmland by redirecting growth to designated growth areas, which are mostly in and around Hagerstown.

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.

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