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The long view of development

December 21, 2004

When it comes to zoning, is government allowed to change its mind? That question is at the heart of a court case now being fought by the City of Hagerstown and Evergreen Properties LLC.

In 2001, Evergreen won a zoning change for a 3.6-acre parcel at the corner of Eastern Boulevard and Potomac Avenue across the street from the Long Meadow Shopping Center. Evergreen had proposed putting a CVS pharmacy with a drive-through window on the site.

But after residents opposed to the idea appealed it, Judge W. Kennedy Boone III ruled that the council's explanation of what it had done was insufficient and sent it back to the city's elected officials for a rewrite.

But instead of clarifying what the previous council had done, the current council unanimously decided to reverse it.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that adding a drive-through business at one of the busiest corners in the city would only add to the traffic problems that already exist, the case raises some important points.

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The first is that the previous approval seemed more tied to the prospect of additional tax revenues than to any well-thought-out plan for economic development. CVS should have been persuaded to try another site that wouldn't create such a bottleneck.

But the second point is that after fighting the issue all the way to the Court of Special Appeals, Evergreen had some reasonable expectation that the government that approved its plans would not flip-flop, even though some of the councilmembers had changed.

How this is resolved is a matter for the courts. We are more concerned with how such problems can be avoided in the future.

Our suggestion: When looking at potential development, look at its long-term implications. If that corner is developed in such a way that creates traffic problems, it could adversely affect redevelopment of the shopping center.

That might actually cost the city and county tax dollars in the long run, which is why elected officials must look beyond the next quarter's revenues when considering zoning changes.

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