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City evaluates plan to address growth

April 28, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The City of Hagerstown is beginning to take on its first broad reassessment of how the city should handle future growth in nearly 10 years, and job growth and the city's ability to keep up services might be the biggest guiding factors in the new plan.

A group of city officials, residents and business representatives met Wednesday night at Otterbein United Methodist Church in what was billed as the kickoff meeting for the city's Comprehensive Plan discussions.

Stuart Bass, who will be the point of contact for the efforts to develop the plan, said after the meeting that the Comprehensive Plan is important because "it's sort of the blueprint for growth and development and the future of the city. ... It sets the stage" for specific development proposals.

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City Planning Director Kathleen Maher told the audience that the housing and business climate have changed since the last plan was developed in 1996. In the last plan, city officials were trying to attract growth.

"Right now, as we all know, we don't have to figure out how to attract growth. We have to figure out how to manage it," Maher said.

Clive Graham, a senior planner with the city's consultant, Environmental Resources Management, laid out for his audience Wednesday night the way the process would take shape, and listed 26 separate issues he had identified as possible guiding factors for the plan.

Those concerns included traffic, downtown development, parks and recreational space, schools and health care, including Washington County Hospital's proposed move, and water and sewer system management.

Several audience members added their own concerns.

Michael Stoner, a Hagerstown-based architect, said the city needs to consider making room for new building projects downtown, which he said are squeezed out by historic regulations that are too stringent.

Tamar Osterman, governmental affairs director for the Pen-Mar Regional Association of Realtors, said planners need to consider a growing discrepancy between local wages and local housing prices.

"Local people who are living locally (are) not being able to make the adjustment" for higher-priced homes, Osterman said.

Between Graham and the audience's suggestions, there were 31 total issues identified that can be considered as part of the Comprehensive Plan development.

In a poll run by the consultant Wednesday, the audience listed job growth and city service planning as its highest goals, followed by the city's fiscal health, overall growth management, schools and downtown revitalization.

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