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Snook says rezoning vote is likely soon

April 19, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It's been nearly three years since the Washington County Commissioners updated a county growth plan that aims to limit development in rural areas by rezoning about 250,000 acres.

But the commissioners have yet to adopt the rezoning restrictions in the plan, after getting hung up over whether those restrictions would reduce property values.

The commissioners, instead, have decided to control growth by extending a ban on major building in rural areas four times, while they figure out whether they should, and if so how to, compensate landowners for a possible loss of equity.

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After last week's six-month extension of the ban, some commissioners have said they've grown tired of prolonging the building moratorium and that they're no longer interested in putting off the rezoning vote.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said in a phone interview Monday the vote would probably happen in 30 to 45 days - with or without a compensation plan.

"I don't want to go for another extension," Snook said. "I want to vote on it before we get to that point again."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said there was no telling when a vote would take place.

"I really don't know what time frame to expect anymore," Wivell said.

Wivell said he thought that if a vote happens in 30 to 45 days, it probably would come without a compensation plan. He said he didn't think the commissioners would be able to create such a plan in that amount of time.

"If the majority of the board has no interest in looking at (a compensation plan), then I would say, yeah, that's a realistic time frame," Wivell said.

Under the county's rezoning proposal, one home would be allowed for every 5 acres in an agricultural zone.

For example, a property owner with 100 acres in a agriculture zone would be able to build 20 homes.

Currently, one home per acre is allowed in the agriculture 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.

Landowners have objected to the proposal, saying it would devalue their land by limiting the development potential of their property. That's money they're counting on for retirement purposes or in hard financial times, some landowners have said.

Wivell, who supports compensating landowners for lost equity, has proposed offering developers the option of building more homes on their property than would be allowed under the rezoning plan in exchange for a payment. That money then would go toward farmland preservation.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval has proposed a Transferable Development Rights program, which would allow landowners to sell the development rights of their property. Buyers of those rights would then be able to develop land elsewhere at a higher density.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he didn't know when the commissioners would vote on the rezoning proposal but that it should have happened by now. When it does happen, he said he plans to vote against it.

"I feel it's taking people's rights away from them," by restricting how many homes a property owner could put on their land, he said.

Munson also said the plan would drive up land prices and push out younger residents who wouldn't be able to afford a house in the county.

"When they get out of school, they're going to leave," he said.

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