Commissioners keep stalling land-use plan

November 02, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Fun fact: Since the Washington County Commissioners instituted a drought-related moratorium two years ago, Hagerstown has received more than nine feet of rain.

Of course, it was only a drought moratorium when the commissioners were talking to builders; when they were talking to conservationists, the moratorium on development was, well, a moratorium on development.

So yet again my plans for a major subdivision abutting Antietam Battlefield called "Bloody Acres" have been foiled.

I swear, the commissioners have extended this moratorium more often than a teenager says "awesome."

Not that any teens will have made it this far. They see "land use" in a headline and they prudently go back to watching South Park.

The commissioners keep saying they need to extend the moratorium until they pass their comprehensive plan. Well then, you might ask, why don't they just go ahead and pass the comprehensive plan already?


The answer is obvious: There is no such thing as a "comprehensive plan." Think about it. If the commissioners put half as much energy into this so-called comprehensive plan as they do picking a "Student of the Month," we would have had it on the books about three years ago.

So I'm starting to get suspicious that this is no accident. In fact, it is quite a cunning stratagem.

The commissioners are effectively keeping a lid on development without all the associated angst and political fallout that always accompanies stricter zoning.

When the developers, like Cindy Lou Who, catch the commissioners once again stuffing the comprehensive plan up the chimney, the county pats them on the head and says there's a clause in the plan that isn't right on one side. So they're taking it back to their workshop, my dear. They'll fix it up there, then they'll bring it back here.

This is brilliant. And the best part, they can do it forever.

"HAGERSTOWN, June 9, 2008 - County Commissioners today extended the building moratorium, while they study ways to make the comprehensive plan more Catholic-friendly..."

"HAGERSTOWN, Feb. 12, 2019 - County Commissioners today extended the building moratorium in order to clarify language in the comprehensive plan as it pertains to low-density, free-range chicken coops..."

Fifty years from now, commissioners President Greg Snook will have a beard down to his kneecaps and he'll be shouting into Bill Wivell's hearing aid, "You know, we've never resolved whether 'downzoning' is one word or two - better extend the moratorium."

Of course, with the Hagerstown City "Hockey Dad" Council, it's shouting, if you're lucky. Thursday, Washington County Healthcare Coalition co-founder Ed Lough said he was shoved by Councilwoman Penny Nigh after a contentious meeting concerning the hospital's planned move to Robinwood. During the public part of the meeting, Nigh said the coalition has "nauseated me to no end."

Hot dog, now we're going somewhere in this hospital fight. All the talk, frankly, had started to get boring. I want to see the healthcare coalition have to show up for meetings with the city wearing elbow pads and hockey masks. I want to see Mayor Bill Breichner and hospital exec Jim Hamill arm wrestle for the hospital's right to move. Instead of a witness stand, I want the council chambers to have a penalty box.

Most cities have a plain ole council and citizens group. We have the Crips and the Bloods. From now on, you know I'm going to be watching the televised council meetings - although they could use a camera set up back stage in the green room like Jerry Springer, where the action (allegedly) is.

Penny, for her part, thinks it might have been more of a brush than a shove, so we do have some controversy.

City Finance Director Al "Sergeant Schultz" Martin didn't clear anything up; he was nearby but prudently said, "I see noth-ing. Noth-ing." No sense ratting out the boss. My guess is that Lough could have been lying there in a pool of blood, and Martin would have sworn his eyes were diverted at the time. Someone get Al into the witness protection program, quick.

But Ed. Seriously. You really want to come out and admit you got racked by a councilchick? Like you're some meter maid and Penny is Randy Moss? Come on, when someone crosses you, you don't tell everyone about it. You handle it the Hagerstown way: You keep a stiff upper lip and then talk about the person behind her back.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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