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County to mull urban rezoning

August 17, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Last month, the Washington County Commissioners rezoned approximately 250,000 of the county's rural acres, a process that took about three years and stirred heated debate among dozens of landowners.

Now, county officials say it's time to review zoning classifications inside the urban and town growth areas, which probably will lead to another lengthy rezoning process.

Growth areas, mainly around the City of Hagerstown and other municipalities, are designated areas where residential and commercial development is encouraged because they typically have the water, sewer and other resources in place to accommodate growth.

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Planning Director Mike Thompson said by phone Tuesday that the growth area zoning review - like the rural rezoning process - is intended to better manage county growth.

But Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell didn't think so.

When asked Monday why the county was reviewing zoning inside the growth area, Wivell said, "so we can screw up inside the growth area the same way we did outside the growth area."

Wivell was a firm opponent of rural rezoning, which reduced the number of homes allowed in rural areas. He questioned whether the rezoning plan would reduce property values of the affected land and wanted an "equity" plan in place for those property owners. He also said the rural areas where the most building is allowed under the approved rezoning regulations are the same areas that have the best soils for farming.

He said Monday that the county's Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board suggested the rural and urban rezonings be done at the same time because possible equity plans adopted by the county, like a transferable development rights program (TDR), could affect both areas.

TDRs allow property owners to sell development rights to their land. Purchasers of those rights would then be able to develop land elsewhere at a high density.

Commissioner John C. Munson, another opponent of rural rezoning, said he didn't know what the growth area rezoning process would entail because it's something the county has just begun.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps could not be reached for comment.

Thompson said the growth area review will consider issues such as sewer and school capacities and determine whether zoning classifications should be changed or whether some should be added or dropped to best deal with growth.

He said he expects the process to last about 11/2 to two years.

The commissioners plan to appoint a citizens committee to draft recommendations that will be passed to planning staff, Thompson said.

There are several residential, commercial and industrial zoning classifications in the growth areas. Thompson said there also are agriculture designations within the growth areas that might be rezoned under the new process.

Thompson said it's unlikely the rural areas that were rezoned would be rezoned a second time under the growth area rezoning.

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