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Zoning might be established in Hancock

December 09, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK - Hancock property owners might wish to act quickly if they want to open a strip club next to Hancock Middle/Senior High School or a pig farm by the Hancock Little League Park.

The town, which according to Maryland Department of Planning officials is the largest incorporated town in the state without zoning ordinances, took a decisive step Thursday afternoon toward establishing zoning in Hancock that could restrict what businesses can be placed where.

"Basically, what it's designed to do is it ends up protecting the community," Hancock Councilman Randy Pittman said. "Do you want a used car lot next to your house? No, and this is designed to protect against that."

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The town council invited representatives from the Maryland Department of Planning to speak about the merits of zoning ordinances on Thursday during a specially convened public workshop. No members of the public attended.

"With everything coming down the pike in the county, I personally feel we're foolish if we don't have the complete package," Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said. "I think the time is right that we take a hard look at this."

Murphy said the town has dealt with zoning issues in the past through two mechanisms: a list of subdivision requirements, which establish things such as setbacks between different properties; and the adoption of site-specific ordinances, many of which conflict with each other when examined overall.

William R. Atkinson, a regional planner with the state planning department, said zoning ordinances can more effectively maintain the character of the town by clearly delineating residential, commercial and industrial zones and prohibiting development that does not conform with those zones.

Existing properties would not be affected, but property owners could become subject to the zoning ordinances if they want to change their uses, such as from a residence to a retail store, or if they want to expand the size of their buildings.

The council supported the concept and agreed to retain the state planning department to work with the town planning commission to develop a set of zoning codes. The first step, state planner David V. Cotton said, will be to study how land currently is used in town, as well as the town's existing subdivision requirements, and determine the town's future land-use patterns.

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