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City moves to limit number of multi-family homes

May 05, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday gave city staff the go-ahead to pursue a half-dozen options for limiting the number of multi-family homes that could be built in the city.

City Planning Director Kathleen Maher presented options Tuesday night during the City Council work session in response to calls by council members last month for a possible moratorium on apartments.

City officials have said the number of rental homes in Hagerstown compared with owner-occupied homes is too high. With a recent boom in new housing, city services may not be sufficient to support the number of people who would live in the housing, they said.

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Limiting multi-family units could come in several forms, some easier and some more difficult to put in place, Maher said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner offered a proposal to force developers to include in their plans "green space," or space for parks, in an apartment complex.

While overall percentages of single-family versus multi-family homes is a problem, Metzner said, "we also need to look at (population) density." He said green space requirements could address the problem of too many people in too little space.

The other possibilities Maher presented were:

  • Rezoning three undeveloped pieces of land that currently would allow up to 2,000 homes. The rezoning would allow fewer homes to be built.

  • Setting square-footage minimums for apartments created by dividing single-family homes into several rental properties. Maher said that could limit overcrowding problems.

  • Using a formula to cap the number of multi-family units built in some parts of the city.

  • Work with Washington County to come up with zoning policies that would require developers to include some subsidized housing units in their developments.

  • Work with the Maryland Municipal League, an association that represents the state's local governments, to come up with a plan that would decrease the concentration of federally subsidized rental housing, known as Section 8 Program homes.

    "We're getting a fair number of multi-family units" planned to be built in the city, Maher said.

    According to one estimate presented Tuesday, the percentage of multi-family housing units - which includes apartments - could increase against the wishes of the City Council.

    After the meeting, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the council wants to promote homeownership and the construction of more single-family homes versus higher-impact, multi-family homes.

    With homeownership, "You get nice investment in the neighborhood. We think it adds to the vibrancy of the neighborhood," Zimmerman said.

    Zimmerman said the city has no policy on limiting apartments, but what Maher presented was an initial step toward formulating such a policy.

    The council asked Maher to begin drafting proposals for review by a city attorney. City planners would bring those back for further review at a future meeting, although no date was set Tuesday.

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