Task force presents zoning report

June 23, 2004|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County's slow growth rate doesn't warrant the regulations proposed by the county to limit development in rural areas, a task force told the County Commissioners on Tuesday.

At least one commissioner, Doris J. Nipps, disputed the claims by the county-appointed task force, saying the county is growing at a faster rate than projected.

The discussion came at a meeting Tuesday night during which the Washington County Rural Area Zoning Task Force presented a report to the commissioners about the county's proposal to rezone more than 250,000 rural acres.


About 100 people attended the meeting at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

The county has said the proposed rezoning would reduce the number of homes allowed in rural areas in an attempt to preserve farmland and control growth.

Nipps said higher public school enrollments and the need for road improvements and other infrastructure upgrades are indicators that the county is growing faster than anticipated.

Task force member Jason Divelbiss said the group used statistics from the county's 2002 Comprehensive Plan, which stated the county was slowly growing at a rate of well under 1 percent a year.

The proposed rural rezoning plan is part of the Comprehensive Plan, which aims to direct growth away from rural areas and to designated growth areas.

Nipps and Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the Comprehensive Plan was approved by the previous board of commissioners and that the growth numbers in it were outdated.

Nipps said the county was growing at a rate of 1 percent or more a year and that the commissioners have to act now to keep it under control. She said the commissioners shouldn't leave the issue alone and force future commissioners to deal with the problem 10 years down the road.

"It's going to be too late," Nipps said.

The commissioners formed the 13-member task force Jan. 27 to review parts of the rezoning plan.

Under the proposed plan, one home would be allowed for every five acres 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 on land zoned environmental conservation and one home per 30 acres in preservation zones. Both designations are new.

The task force said that such a rezoning would devalue land because it would limit the development potential of rural properties. It has recommended that the county consider creating programs that might help landowners recover from lost equity.

The programs also would preserve farmland, according to the task force.

Those programs include the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) and Installment Purchase Agreements (IPAs).

TDRs allow landowners to establish development rights on their properties. Those rights are sold to developers, who then can transfer those rights to areas where major growth is allowed and build more units.

The original property is protected from development.

IPAs compensate property owners in payment installments for the restricted use of their land.

Divelbiss said the task force didn't want to think of those programs as compensation programs in case they should fail. Rather, he said, they should be thought of as preservation programs.

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