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Commissioners mull rural rezoning plan

June 21, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY

andrews@herald-mail.com

After nearly three years of crafting and debating a rural rezoning plan, the Washington County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the proposal July 12.

Based on views the commissioners expressed during and after a meeting Monday, the plan - which tightens limits on rural residential building - has a good chance of narrowly passing.

Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps said they favor the proposal, although not wholeheartedly.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, who did not attend the meeting, said in an interview Monday afternoon that he also supports it.

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Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson said they're opposed.

"I think we should go back to the drawing board," Wivell said after the meeting.

The ordinance could be enacted if the commissioners pass it July 12, County Attorney Richard Douglas said. Or they could ask for another public hearing, which is not required, he said.

The proposed zoning changes were part of a Comprehensive Plan the commissioners adopted in August 2002.

Since then, the commissioners have debated the fairest way to balance controlled growth and property rights.

At Monday's meeting, the commissioners reviewed a draft ordinance that would allow one dwelling unit per 5 acres in an agricultural zone, rather than one unit per acre.

The plan also would allow one unit per 20 acres in an environmental conservation zone and one unit per 30 acres in a preservation zone. Those designations are new.

The zoning restrictions would not apply to the county's Urban Growth Area, where development is encouraged.

"We're not directing growth," Jerry Ditto, a farmer who serves on the county's Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board, said at Monday's meeting. "Growth is going to occur haphazardly on that map."

Another farmer, Robert W. Cline of Williamsport, questioned why the commissioners would approve a new rural zone without a program to compensate people whose land would be affected.

One possibility mentioned is "transfer of development rights," or TDR. Landowners would sell development rights that could be used in designated growth areas, preserving the farmland.

The Herald-Mail asked the commissioners for their thoughts after the meeting.

Wivell said he prefers a uniform density for land outside the Urban Growth Area. He also said compensation is a valid question.

But Kercheval and Nipps said the commissioners still can look at TDR after passing a new rural zoning plan.

Kercheval agreed that uniform density would have been better, but said he'd rather not delay further as the county is built up.

"This is a step in the right direction," he said, adding that the ordinance can be amended later.

"It's time for us to make a decision, move forward," Nipps said.

She said the commissioners couldn't look at TDR until they finish rezoning the Urban Growth Area.

Nipps and Snook said they favor the densities as proposed.

Snook emphasized that the plan gives existing landowners an exemption to subdivide three to five lots, depending on the acreage.

The commissioners decided Monday that people who owned land on or before Oct. 29, 2002, would be entitled to the exemptions. That's when they passed a development moratorium, which has been extended four times.

Munson said he still squarely opposes the rezoning plan, which he considers an infringement of personal rights.

"I like open farmland, but you aren't going to stop growth," he said. "You will make it more expensive."

The rezoning plan will include a historic preservation exemption that Kercheval proposed Monday. Developers would be allowed two extra lots if they save a building that's on a list of historic properties.




Rural rezoning plan


  • One dwelling unit per 5 acres in an agricultural zone

  • One dwelling unit per 20 acres in an environmental conservation zone

  • One dwelling unit per 30 acres in a preservation zone

  • For people who owned land on or before Oct. 29, 2002, exemptions to subdivide three to five lots

  • A Rural Village zone to preserve historic or rural character of existing villages

  • Zones for new and existing rural businesses

  • An Industrial, Mineral zone for high-volume mineral extraction

  • A Special Economic Development District for redeveloping the former Fort Ritchie base

  • An Antietam Overlay District to protect Antietam National Battlefield and surrounding land

  • A Historic Preservation District to preserve historic structures, sites and districts
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