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City to further review big-box rules

August 25, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Measures to regulate so-called big-box stores were sent back for further review Tuesday night at the Hagerstown City Council's voting session.

In step with a regional trend of looking at building standards for stores such as Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Home Depot and others, city officials are tailoring city codes to address problems they say are created by the stores.

The city is considering rule changes that are aimed at cutting down on the impact big-box stores have on residents and drivers.

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While the City Council adopted one set of measures last month, a second set of rules set for adoption was put on hold Tuesday night after one council member questioned their strength.

The measures before the council Tuesday would set guidelines for design of the stores, City Planning Director Kathleen Maher said before the meeting. Those guidelines, if adopted, would be used by the City Planning Commission to either approve or deny a new project.

The new guidelines are aimed at making property better-looking, safer, and more pedestrian-friendly, Maher said.

The guidelines encourage two-story construction that uses less land than one-story construction. Developers also would be asked to build parking on the sides and at the rear of a building instead of at the front.

Maher said the new rules would encourage stores to avoid storing products outside their buildings, and if they did, to plant trees or build fences to shield them from passersby.

When the item came up for a vote Tuesday, Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire questioned wording in the proposed changes that allowed the planning commission to waive some requirements. Other council members agreed to hold off on a vote until next month.

After the meeting Aleshire said removing that language would "make the ordinance more concrete."

This Thursday, other rules restricting big-box stores adopted last month will take effect. Those rules will require developers of new stores to plant trees or shrubs along parking lots, street edges and property lines, Maher said.

The landscaping requirements were designed, in part, to force big-box developers to better offset their properties from homes. Under the current regulations, developers sometimes planted only grass as a buffer, a step Maher said was inadequate.

Next month, a third set of changes will be scheduled for public hearing before the City Council. Those changes would affect the commercial zoning district that covers all large-scale commercial development, but with big-box stores in mind.

Under those proposed changes, any building in a C4 zoning district next to homes would have to be 100 feet from the residential property line, although parking lots could be closer.

The proposed setback requirements would be less stringent for buildings in a C4 district next to other businesses.

Maher said the earliest those regulations could take effect is late December, but they must be put to a vote by the City Council before they can take effect.

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