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Hagerstown City Council OKs developer's land annexation

January 11, 2006|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN

daniels@herald-mail.com

After some careful legal maneuvering, the Hagerstown City Council found a way Tuesday night to approve a developer's request to bring a 66.7-acre piece of land by Cedar Lawn Memorial Park into city limits for eventual conversion into a 250-unit housing development.

The land, divided by Md. 144, will not immediately be used to build houses, however. The council voted 3-1 to approve the annexation and change part of the zoning of the land to R-2 residential, with the condition it complies with state law that will, essentially, prevent any construction for five years.

Developer Todd M. Snook, brother of Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, asked the city to annex the property and permit a mix of residential and commercial uses on the land. Under Washington County classifications, the land carries a mix of zoning.

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Part of the land, north of Md. 144, is zoned for low-density residential use under Washington County zoning, and that use would not change substantially under the city's zoning. The second portion, south of Md. 144, is zoned under an Industrial/Flex classification, which allows for light industrial parks, business parks and minor commercial uses. The city does not have such a classification, but Snook wanted the land's zoning to be changed to a mix of residential and commercial zoning.

Snook has not filed formal development plans, but according to a city memo on the project, he is hoping with the designation to build a 250-unit housing development.

The Washington County Commissioners decided in December not to support that zoning change, arguing it would be inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan. Snook still can build homes on the land, but according to state law, he must wait five years before doing that because the county opposes it.

As part of his application to the city, Snook asked city council to approve the annexation with a provision that if council did nothing, the land would carry an R-2 residential zoning after five years. Richard T. Colaresi, a land development lawyer the city hired to study the option, determined the provision would be illegal. Council appeared wary of adopting the resolution against Colaresi's opinion.

"If we're going to retain an attorney ... and not follow his opinion, we're fools and wasting our money," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

Jason M. Divelbliss, a lawyer representing Snook, said if council failed to approve the annexation Tuesday, it essentially would bring an end to the project because his agreement of sale expires today. He said there is a provision in the agreement that the land be developed as residential.

"Now, we're in the 12th hour," Divelbliss said.

Metzner later argued that, even if the provision is illegal, the city would have nothing to lose by approving it anyway. He said if someone were to successfully challenge the annexation, possibly the county, the land still could be developed. The only one who would lose in that case would be Snook, who would be forced to develop the land as an industrial use.

"(If) you get sued and (someone) says you can't do it, that's their problem, not ours," Metzner said. "I wouldn't spend a penny to defend it. I see us as having no downside here."

After further debate, council voted to annex the land and change the southern portion to R-2 residential zoning, with the condition doing so complies with state law, meaning the land cannot be developed for five years unless the county decides to change its zoning to allow the homes to be built before then.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh voted against the measure and Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer abstained, arguing the city had not had the chance to check with its lawyers to determine whether the provision is legal.

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