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Keep ORT zoning intact to bring in high-tech jobs

November 11, 2004

Sometimes there are proposals for land development that don't exactly fit under the zoning rules now in place. That's when human beings have to use their best judgment to decide what's best for the community.

Officials of the John Ackridge Development Co. of Washington, D.C., have applied for a zoning text amendment that would allow the firm to develop housing and retail businesses at Allegheny Energy's Friendship Technology Park.

Such uses wouldn't be allowed under the present zoning, a relatively new classification known as the Office, Research and Technology zone.

The ORT classification was created in October 2002 and applied to the Allegheny property shortly thereafter. ORT allows medical and corporate offices and technology, research and development-based businesses and institutions.

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Joseph Svatos, Ackridge's senior vice president, said that his firm has much experience in bringing in the sort of high-tech jobs the county government seeks.

He told a joint hearing of the Washington County Commissioners and the Planning Commission that the firm wants to create "a sense of place."

If Svatos means that he wants to create a business park where businesspeople would not have to leave the site to eat or stay at a hotel, we understand that. We just don't agree with it. We oppose using this valuable site for anything but the high-tech jobs for which it was envisioned.

The 450-acre park has its own ramp off Interstate 70 and the property is visible from the road. Its central location and easy access were two reasons that it was considered at one time for the new campus of the University Systems of Maryland and as the site of a new Washington County Hospital.

Washington County needs sites for high-tech jobs. If, as a result of bringing in those jobs, a need for additional restaurants and hotels develops, they can be built along the nearby Downsville Pike.

Past boards of county commissioners have sometimes treated development proposals as if they feared that turning them down would mean losing the opportunity forever. That time has passed. If Ackridge drops its proposal, another firm will be along - and probably sooner than anyone expects.

The commissioners made a good decision on ORT zoning in 2002. They should not change it now.

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