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Council members air concerns about city's Comprehensive Plan

August 10, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Council members expressed concerns over population growth, housing density, jobs creation and tax collection in a discussion Tuesday over the city's main planning document.

The city's Comprehensive Plan still is in the initial stages of development, and a consultant from Environmental Resources Management of Annapolis asked for the council's input on the document during its Tuesday work session.

"We cannot afford to develop as a city under the zoning densities that we currently have in place," Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said. He said that in some places where zoning rules allow 10 or more homes per acre, the city cannot expect to be able to provide services such as water, sewer, and fire and police protection.

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The Comprehensive Plan is considered the guiding document for the way the city will take shape and how city officials hope land will be used.

ERM consultant Clive Graham said, from his estimates, that the city's population growth rate over the past five years was an average annual rate of 0.9 percent, nearly three times the amount between 1990 and 2000.

With that level of growth, Aleshire said, it might be necessary to impose rules to increase the level of home ownership in order "to have the quality of life that a lot of people are moving here for."

City Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh added her concerns about tax collection, saying that the city tax base was being "crippled" by an overabundance of nonprofit organizations and the exemptions given to those groups, including some publicly supported housing agencies.

"That's killing us ... I just don't know where the (tax) benefits are going to come in," Nigh said.

She also expressed concern over the types of jobs the city was attracting. In mentioning a discussion she'd had with a state official, she said a focus on bringing jobs such as those brought by distribution centers are not enough.

"Fourteen dollars an hour is not going to handle what we need as far as economic growth," Nigh said.

Graham said there will be continued meetings in the coming months, and draft recommendations should be given to the council and City Planning Commission in October, with a draft plan ready in January.

The final plan is scheduled for completion in July 2006.

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