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Council mulls moratorium on new houses

April 16, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Some Hagerstown City Council members said they believe it may be necessary to halt the approval process for new homes within the city until new rules are developed to better prepare for population growth.

The moratorium, which would have to be approved by the City Council, would mean that new applications from real estate developers to build housing in the city would be denied. Council members favoring a moratorium said this week that homes that have been approved for construction could be built.

"We've got a number of steps" before a moratorium takes place, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Wednesday. He said a city attorney would research what options the city has for imposing a moratorium and present them to the mayor and council in May.

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Council members reached Thursday discussed a broad range of concerns over the high demand for new homes in and around Hagerstown.

Some said they were worried about whether the city has in place the mechanisms to keep from building too many dwelling units in areas where there aren't sufficient city services to handle them, and whether there should be less rental housing in the city.

Some council members said they would oppose a moratorium on development.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner requested at Tuesday's work session that the council discuss a moratorium on new apartments.

City Planning Director Kathleen Maher said she would need to know exactly what type of housing the council wants included should a moratorium be approved. Even the word "apartment" can be construed in different ways, she said.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he thinks rental housing construction needs to be targeted for new controls. He said the city also needs to tighten what he sees as lax zoning regulations and get a handle on whether the current zoning designations, which determine what types of buildings are allowed in specific areas, are appropriate.

If the council finds it can't take those steps quickly enough, Aleshire said he thinks a moratorium would be necessary.

He said an overall housing moratorium could be needed because it might be too difficult to target only rental housing units.

One problem Aleshire said could result from out-of-control rental development, which is shifting toward the city's edges, is the devaluation of rental property in downtown Hagerstown.

Aleshire said the city faces "a wave of development. If you're not properly prepared for it, it will wash over this community and we will be left with an appearance that we may not have envisioned."

Council members N. Linn Hendershot and Carol N. Moller said they oppose a moratorium, but might have to consider one in the future

"We have to figure out how to monitor growth," Hendershot said. "But I don't think a moratorium" is the answer.

He said if the council decided a moratorium was necessary, a shorter moratorium, of one to two years, would be preferable to a longer one.

Moller said, "I don't like moratoriums. ... You have to weigh a lot of things before you jump into something like that."

Council members Metzner and Penny M. Nigh did not return phone calls Thursday.

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