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To grow quickly or not?There's a cost either way

June 22, 2004

When it comes to the Washington County Commissioners' proposal to rezone rural land, one thing is clear: Either way, the taxpayers will have to foot the bill. The sooner citizens decide which option they'd rather pay for, the better off they'll be.

Those options will be discussed tonight at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater. That's when the Rural Area Zoning Task Force will present its report.

The task force was appointed by the commissioners after many citizens protested the county plan to reduce the number of homes allowed on several classifications of rural land.

On Saturday, The Herald-Mail's Tara Reilly reported that the task force report found that the proposed rezoning would devalue land. To compensate for that devaluation, the task force recommended that the county pay landowners for their lost equity.

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The commissioners could reject the report and proceed with the rezoning effort without compensation. That's unlikely, because it would certainly lead to their defeat at the next election, as every citizens with a few acres of heretofore developable land would have a financial stake in defeating them.

Recently a pro-growth group gained control in nearby Loudon County, Va., and The Washington Post recently reported that they're projecting a need for 20 new schools in the near future.

Guess who would pay for needed schools if such a thing happened here.

A full-speed-ahead development plan would require more than school construction. Most of the county's major roads are already inadequate for the traffic they carry.

With state aid dropping, local bond issues would be required to foot the share of those costs that developers don't pay. Guess who'll get that bill.

Local taxpayers, as we said at the outset, will pay either way. Developers can be tagged for school construction costs, but the per-pupil instructional costs will be spread out to everyone else. And if all that happens at once, some on fixed incomes could be taxed out of their homes.

What makes sense, as former County Commissioner John Schnebly has written in these pages, is an approach that not only recognizes that growth will occur, but also that the county will be better able to handle it if it doesn't all come at once.

How that's accomplished will be the subject of much debate. But if there's a cost associated with slowing development, it will be easier to swallow than one for the cost of massive school and road construction.

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