Reports says rezoning will devalue land

June 19, 2004|By TARA REILLY


Washington County's proposed plan to rezone more than 250,000 rural acres would devalue land by reducing the development potential of properties, according to a report by a county-appointed task force.

As a result, the county should adopt programs that compensate rural landowners for their lost equity, the report states.

The report, written by the Washington County Rural Area Zoning Task Force, states the county also should loosen the restrictions on the types of businesses and the number of homes that would be allowed on rural land.

The County Commissioners appointed the 13-member task force in December to study such issues. The commissioners, however, didn't allow the group to review the most controversial part of the proposed rezoning plan, which controls growth in rural areas by reducing the number of homes allowed per acre.


The task force will present its recommendations to the County Commissioners on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

Under the proposed rezoning 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.

The goal of the rezoning is to direct growth to designated growth areas. Much of the growth area is in and around Hagerstown.

The proposal is part of the county's Comprehensive Plan, which the commissioners adopted in August 2002.

The task force's findings differ from a recent study by the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of Maryland, which stated downzoning either had no effect on, showed little depreciation on or, in some instances, increased land values.

"Even if certain economic theories or data studies predict that the proposed rezoning will have a positive, or at worst, neutral, effect on the property values or rural lands, this Task Force is not convinced," the report states.

Task force member Tom Firey wrote in the report that the proposed rezoning would encourage sprawl in rural areas.

"Despite its high-minded goals, the proposed rezoning will increase sprawl development in the rural parts of Washington County and discourage farming and the private holding of undeveloped land," Firey wrote.

Not all task force members are convinced the proposed rezoning would cause a hardship on landowners.

Task force member Dick Cushwa wrote that not all rural land is developable because it may have characteristics, such as wetlands, being in flood plains and having steep slopes.

"I believe the proposed rezoning has created a hysteria among many rural land owners, who suddenly are convinced that every acre they own is of great value," Cushwa wrote in the report. "This simply isn't the case."

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