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Speakers blast county rural land proposals

September 28, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Speakers criticized Washington County's proposed rural rezoning plan, which would limit development in rural areas, during a public hearing held by the Washington County Commissioners Monday night.

Approximately 100 people attended the hearing at the Washington County Courthouse and about 20 of those spoke.

Some of the speakers, including Eleanor Funk, said up front that they did not own rural land.

But, she said, "If I owned ag land I would be screaming."

Funk said she does not understand why more property owners are not equally outraged.

Funk alluded to reports that Commissioners John C. Munson and William J. Wivell have said they will vote against the plan in which about 250,000 rural acres would be rezoned.

She asked, "Why should three out of five commissioners be able to decide the zoning of 250,000 acres of rural land?"

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Others speaking at the hearing, including John Himes, said they would be affected by the changes.

Pointing to the written plan, Himes said, "All this malarkey you have in here may sound good to a lot of people but it don't sound good to me ... This is ridiculous."

Himes said he might not be as educated as the county staff or members of the audience but he knows when something is not right.

During prior public hearing, dozens of opponents have said the rezoning plan would decrease land values and "rob" landowners and farmers of their equity, money they were counting on for retirement purposes or if they hit rough financial times.

Some of the speakers at Monday's public hearing alluded to a new proposal that would make a portion of the plan less restrictive to development.

As originally written, the Comprehensive Rezoning of the Rural Areas plan set strict guidelines for the number of lots allowed in areas designated rural.

The commissioners, however, have proposed that rural landowners be guaranteed a certain number of lots before those guidelines apply to their land, Planning Director Mike Thompson said Monday.

Thompson said the proposal would allow rural landowners to subdivide more lots than the original rezoning plan would allow. The number of guaranteed lots, known as lot exemptions, would depend on the size of a property, Thompson said.

Under the commissioners' proposal, owners of properties of fewer than 50 acres would be allowed to subdivide three lots, owners of properties of between 50 and 100 acres would be allowed to subdivide four lots and those who own more than 100 acres would be allowed to subdivide five lots, Thompson said.

After the guaranteed lots were subdivided, the rest of the land would be subject to the stricter guidelines.

Under those guidelines, one home would be allowed for every remaining five acres in an agricultural zone. For example, a property owner with 100 acres left over in an agricultural zone once the guaranteed lots were subdivided would be able to build 20 dwelling units.

Currently, one home per acre is allowed in the agricultural zone.

Farmer Gerald Ditto said the exemptions were not enough for the rural farm property owners.

There are ways the county can preserve equity for all land owners and those methods should be further pursued, he said.

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