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City Council wants limit on rentals

June 16, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown city officials on Tuesday took some basic steps toward limiting the amount of rental housing that can be built within the city, but broader, more complicated processes were put on hold until later this year.

Tuesday's action followed the latest in a series of discussions about how to slow the number of new rental homes to be built in the city.

Officials have expressed concerns that city services can be stressed by having too much rental housing - including government-subsidized housing for low-income residents - concentrated within city limits.

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At Tuesday's City Council work session, Planning Director Kathleen Maher recommended the city "pursue some immediate zoning control amendments."

One recommended change aims to set minimum sizes for apartments.

Maher said minimum-size rules would target property owners who retrofit buildings for apartments. The regulations would discourage property owners from cramming too many apartments into one space, a practice she said can lead to poor living conditions.

For instance, a studio or efficiency apartment could be no smaller than 500 square feet. A three-bedroom apartment would have to be 900 square feet or larger.

Maher also recommended an immediate two-part rule change that would set minimums on the amount of space between new multi-family housing units, such as apartments or condominiums.

The first part would require developers of new housing to dedicate 15 percent of their property to "common open space" such as playgrounds or parks. The second part would require developers to space buildings no less than 20 feet apart.

With the council's OK on the two rule changes, Maher will present the recommendations to the Hagerstown Planning Commission, which will make its recommendation to the City Council, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

The city also is considering changing the zoning on several pieces of undeveloped property throughout the city in order to limit the number of homes that could be built there, Maher said.

Maher recommended, and the council accepted, holding off on changing any zoning until later this year when the city is to take an overall look at the city's zones, which determine what type of homes or businesses can be built on properties.

Maher also told the council Tuesday that the Maryland Municipal League, an association for local governments, has asked other cities in the state if they share City of Hagerstown officials' concerns about the concentration of federal Section 8 low-income housing vouchers.

Some city officials believe residents who qualify for the vouchers should not be clustered.

The hope, Maher said, would be to get the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which manages the Section 8 program, to change its policies about where the vouchers can be used.

Some city officials have championed policy measures known as "inclusionary zoning" rules that would spread low-income, subsidized housing throughout the city and county.

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