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Rezoning plan is flawed, but should be approved

July 08, 2005

Rezoning plan is flawed, but should be approved


Next Tuesday the Washington County Commissioners will make what may be the most important decision in 50 years when they vote on the long-awaited rural rezoning plan.

It is a flawed plan whose chief virtue is that it is better than what we have now, which allows the construction of one house per acre on land zoned for agriculture.

The commissioners should have done a better job, but after years of work and one moratorium after another, the current group seems unwilling or unable to do better. They should approve this plan now and hope that the commissioners elected in 2006 can fix what they could not.

Why is this the most important decision county government might face in this century? Because it will determine how the county will grow for decades to come - and how much that growth will cost existing taxpayers.

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And it will cost. School officials this week said they are $100 million behind on maintenance projects and that they will receive only half of what they had hoped in state school construction money.

Two-lane roads that served a rural community well will prove inadequate if there is a sudden surge in growth, making the area unattractive to industries that need to quickly move goods.

Then there are services such as fire and rescue, which still depend on a core of volunteers and bingo nights to keep operating. More residents will equal more calls for service and, eventually, a greater need for taxpayer support.

Then there is the issue of farmland preservation. The county has determined that it needed 50,000 acres to be preserved to maintain a viable agriculture industry, but as of January, with easement prices rising, only 18,000 had been preserved.

Going back to the one-house-per-acre formula in agricultural areas would make it impossible to reach the preservation target. And the businesses that depend on sales to farmers eventually will close.

The current county board has not done much to increase the pace of easement purchases, but the next board might include members with better ideas and the ability to sell them to those involved.

That is one thing the current board hasn't done, especially on the issue of how to compensate landowners for a loss of development rights.

The compromise allowing property owners to develop from three to five lots was a start, but the commissioners haven't made the case that allowing everyone to develop to the maximum allowed under current zoning would render the county unlivable and the taxes unaffordable.

Asking citizens to sacrifice for the good of the commun ity is something that seems to have gone out of style and not just here in Washington County.

But even though the commissioners haven't made that argument, they now need to sacrifice some of their own political capital for the common good and approve this plan next Tuesday.

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