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County extends development ban

October 27, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday they want to create a plan that would compensate landowners for a possible loss of equity the property owners might face if the commissioners vote to rezone about 250,000 rural acres.

The rural rezoning, also known as downzoning, would keep major growth from springing up in rural areas by limiting the number of homes allowed on such properties, county officials have said. It also would direct growth to areas where development is encouraged, most of which is around the City of Hagerstown.

Because the rezoning plan hasn't been adopted, the commissioners voted to extend the ban on major development in rural areas for up to three months. Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the extension will give the county time to develop a compensation plan.

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The moratorium was to expire Thursday. First approved in October 2002, the moratorium was to be in effect for up to a year, but the commissioners voted to extend it several more times.

Talk of creating a compensation plan came when Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell pitched an idea he said would compensate property owners for lost equity while preserving agricultural land.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he also supported some type of compensation plan.

Opponents of the rezoning plan have said it would devalue their land by limiting its development potential.

Last month, the commissioners proposed making the rezoning plan less restrictive by guaranteeing landowners a certain number of lots before the new rezoning densities would kick in.

Under that proposal, owners of properties less than 50 acres could subdivide three lots, owners of properties between 50 and 100 acres could subdivide four lots and those who own more than 100 acres would be allowed to subdivide five lots.

Once the guaranteed lots were subdivided, the rest of the land would be subject to the stricter rezoning densities, Planning Director Michael Thompson said last month.

Under the rezoning 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.

Wivell said Tuesday he wasn't convinced the rezoning plan would be effective in limiting development.

He said, for example, if there's a demand for 100 homes in the county, those homes will get built regardless of whether a developer has to buy one farm or five farms to do that.

"I think we're just kidding ourselves if we think that downzoning is going to effect development," Wivell said.

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