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Majority of City Council wants industrial land to be rezoned

January 18, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN

daniels@herald-mail.com

A divided Hagerstown City Council inched closer to allowing 28 acres of land off Howell Road to be used for residences, a move that could bring as many as 243 town houses to the area, despite objections by two of the five council members that the city is thwarting its own economic development initiatives by allowing the change.

During its work session Tuesday, the council informally voted 3-2 in favor of a request by Strategic Resources LLC of Highland, Md., to rezone the land owned by Dr. Richard Harrison of Hagerstown. Harrison also owns another 153 acres of industrially zoned land adjacent to the 28-acre property.

Council members Kristin B. Aleshire and Penny May Nigh each said they opposed changing the land's zoning. They said they felt the land holds the largest prospect for economic development of vacant land remaining in the city.

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"I just think it is prime land that we need to carry (as industrial)," Nigh said.

With a majority of council members in favor of changing the land from light industrial to residential, council authorized City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman to draft a formal ordinance council could vote on as early as its Jan. 31 session. Zimmerman said following the meeting, he expects it will take more than two weeks to prepare the ordinance, which more likely would be presented to the council at its February voting session.

Prior to the council's workshop meeting Tuesday, city Finance Director Alfred E. Martin and city Planning Director Kathleen A. Maher prepared a memo for council supporting the rezoning and arguing the land was mistakenly given its industrial zoning when it was annexed into the city in 1962.

In the memo, Martin and Maher estimated the city could generate as much as $418,950 annually if the land were rezoned and as many as 175 town houses were built on the property. As part of the city's annexation agreement, the city agreed not to collect taxes on the land until it was developed, the memo noted.

Strategic Resources has not submitted a development plan. Jason M. Divelbliss, representing the developer, said Tuesday night that Strategic Resources has agreed to build an access road from Edgewood Drive to Dual Highway to alleviate traffic concerns before any of the homes are built, but he said the agreement would be tied to development plans rather than as a condition of the rezoning.

Aleshire argued rezoning the 28-acre portion of the Harrison tract leaves open the possibility and the likelihood Strategic Resources or another developer will ask to have the remainder of the land rezoned for residential use.

Zimmerman said he believes that land has not been developed because there is no viable access road to it. He said by rezoning the land, the city will be allowing both the homes and the road, and by extension, will be making the remaining industrial land more attractive for potential developers.

"What we have at this point is an opportunity that we haven't had on this property since 1962," Zimmerman said.

Nigh said she is concerned about whether residents will want to live across Antietam Creek from the Hagerstown Wastewater Treatment Plant, which at times produces some foul odors. She said prospective buyers of those homes should be warned about the plant's odor.

"Are those people that are going to go into those town houses, are they going to know this?" Nigh asked.

Divelbliss said potential home buyers should be able to find out on their own the plant is there, but after further questioning from Nigh, he said the developer could provide disclosures about the plant's odor.

"Until they live there, they won't know it is a problem," Divelbliss said. "It's an issue we will be aware of and will have to address."

City Attorney John H. Urner said he feared the city would be exposing itself to illegal spot-zoning issues by changing just the 28-acre property at the request of Strategic Resources and leaving more than 100 acres of vacant land surrounding it as industrial, particularly if its underlying argument is the land mistakenly was zoned for residential use to begin with.

"My concern is it's driven by a rationale of what a developer wants, and it tends to put us in a spot-zoning area," Urner said.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the city can argue the 28-acre property is the only part of the Harrison tract that has been called into question, but Zimmerman said city staff will work with Urner on drafting a rezoning ordinance that addresses the issue.

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