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City, county urged to alter zoning for subsidized housing

June 11, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

A change in local housing policy would lower the concentration of poor people within Hagerstown city limits and increase the concentration in Washington County, and would benefit residents in both, a Washington, D.C., policy expert said Thursday.

David Rusk was hired by the city to analyze housing and economic data. He told city and county officials and business leaders Thursday that both the city and the county should consider adopting "inclusionary zoning" rules.

The discussion was part of a broader presentation on improving the economic and social health of Hagerstown and surrounding areas.

Inclusionary zoning is a type of regulation that requires land developers to include government-subsidized homes - either apartments or single-family homes - in large housing developments.

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Under inclusionary zoning, if a builder were going to construct single-family homes, a specified number of those would have to be subsidized, Rusk said.

To compensate builders for lost revenue, governments can give them special benefits. For instance, Montgomery County, Md., which has had such a housing policy for 30 years, allows builders to construct more homes than normally would be allowed by the zoning regulations.

Frederick County, Md., adopted similar rules last year, Rusk said.

The new housing policy would create "sociological breathing space" for residents, Rusk said, and help the city and the county brace for what is expected to be a housing boom in the next few years.

Business leaders who attended Rusk's presentation questioned how the policy would take effect.

"To me, this sounds like a win-win, but there's gotta be some negatives," said Donald M. Bowman, the owner of a local trucking and commercial development business who attended one of two presentations Thursday.

Others questioned whether it was too soon to begin looking at this kind of policy, and how it would work with existing buildings that are refurbished.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said it was an important idea to embrace.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, who also attended a presentation, said a change in the county's policies could be years away.

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