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Rezoning program proposed

November 02, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Commissioner has proposed a program that would charge agricultural landowners a certain amount per acre if they wanted to build more homes on their property than would be allowed under the county's proposed rezoning plan.

County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said in an interview last week that the money generated by the payments could be used to preserve farmland throughout the county.

He said the program wouldn't "rob the large landowner of his equity."

Owners of agricultural property have expressed fear that the rezoning plan would devalue their land by limiting the development potential of the property.

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The county's proposed rezoning plan aims to reduce the number of homes allowed in rural areas and to direct growth to areas where development is encouraged, much of which is around the City of Hagerstown.

Under the rezoning plan, one home would be allowed for every 5 acres of land with an agricultural zoning. For example, a property owner with 100 acres in an agricultural zone would be able to build 20 dwelling units.

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

The plan would allow one home per 20 acres on land zoned environmental conservation and one home per 30 acres in preservation zones. Both designations are new.

Under Wivell's proposal, property owners would have the opportunity to build more homes on their land if they pay $5,000 for every additional acre on which they'd like to build a home.

For example, Wivell wrote that a landowner with 5 acres in an agricultural zone would pay $20,000 to build four additional homes on those acres. That landowner would then be allowed five homes on those five acres.

Under the proposed rezoning plan, the landowner would be allowed to build one home.

"I'm not real thrilled about driving up the cost of housing," Wivell said in an interview.

But he said that just as there is a cost to develop, there also is a cost to preserve farmland.

Wivell said in the proposal that his program would "preserve agricultural land faster than the pace of development, and compensate for the potential loss in equity to the landowner ..."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Friday he wanted to discuss Wivell's proposal before deciding whether he supports it.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Friday she had no comment on Wivell's proposal, because the board hadn't discussed it yet.

"I personally believe that Bill did that because he feels ... we need to compensate people for lost equity," Commissioner John C. Munson said Friday.

Munson said he wouldn't vote for the proposal because he doesn't support the county's rezoning plan. He said the county should leave the current zoning densities as they are.

"I don't think we have a legal right to tell somebody what they can do with their property," he said.

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