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Don't let developer slide on road and school costs

October 01, 2004

Can Hagerstown enact an ordinance to help make sure that new developments within the city limits don't overwhelm local schools? Probably, but in the case of the proposed Mount Aetna Farms development near Robinwood, councilmembers have another tool, if they choose to use it.

It's the annexation agreement Mount Aetna Farms will have to sign if it hopes to be included in the City of Hagerstown's boundaries.

Under such an agreement, the city could specify that Mount Aetna Farms' developer contribute to road and school costs and even stage the construction, so that the proposed 1,400-plus dwellings aren't all built at once, but over a period of years.

The danger, of course, is that the council will view the developer's offer as a take-it-or-leave it proposition and rush to approve it without much negotiation.

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That would be a terrible thing. The developer's plans have gone from 800 units to 1,048 to more than 1,400. In July, members of the Washington County Planning Commission expressed concern about the impact such a concentration would have on the surrounding roads.

Even bridging the Antietam Creek to connect the development to Eastern Boulevard wouldn't help, commissioner member Bernard Moser said, because that road has already "failed the test."

Now come the members of the Washington County School Board, who've written a letter saying that the development would force construction of a new elementary school the addition of space in middle and high schools which serve the city.

Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner said that this is a sign that the school system is not prepared for such growth. What the school system - and the taxpayers - are not prepared for is the siting of a large housing development in an area where schools and roads are already overcrowded.

If the developer isn't forced to pay a fare share of these costs, the taxpayers will have to do so, even though they won't get to share in any of the developer's profits.

Growth is inevitable, but much of the cost should be paid by those who stand to make money from it. The council could take the stand that the city needs the tax money and let the county government deal with any resulting problems.

That would be irresponsible, not to mention a blow against the cooperation recently begun with the so-called "two-on-two" negotiations. If this developer doesn't agree to the conditions the city proposes, the one sure thing is that in a little while, someone else will come along who will.

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