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City divided on allowing homes off Howell Road

February 08, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Strategic Resources LLC of Highland, Md., lost ground in its hopes to build as many as 243 town houses off Howell Road.

For the past several months, a majority of Hagerstown City Council members appeared supportive of the developer's request to change the zoning on the 28-acre property from industrial to residential to build the homes. During a work session Tuesday, Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said she no longer is sure if she wants to see the land's use changed.

"I think a lot of times, we look in terms of the here and now," Cromer said. "We don't think about the future."

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With her vote now undecided, the council is split 2-2 on the matter, with council members Kristin B. Aleshire and Penny M. Nigh opposed and council members Lewis C. Metzner and Alesia D. Parson-McBean in favor of it.

The council voted 3-2 last week to publicly advertise an ordinance on the rezoning, slating it for approval or rejection at a voting session later this month. Cromer voted with the majority.

The land is owned by Dr. Richard Harrison of Hagerstown. Harrison also owns another 153 acres of industrially zoned land adjacent to the 28 acres Strategic Resources wants to develop. The developer has not filed plans, but city information indicates it could build as many as 243 town houses. City Planning Director Kathleen A. Maher drafted a memo to the council Feb. 2 strongly endorsing the rezoning.

Aleshire has said he is opposed to it because the land is one part of one of the largest undeveloped properties in the city and should be developed as an industrial use. On Tuesday, he took issue with a number of points Maher raised in support of the rezoning.

Strategic Resources has agreed to build a road to connect the land from U.S. 40 to Edgewood Drive, and while the city said the road would improve traffic congestion at U.S. 40 and Edgewood Drive, Aleshire said the development also would make the intersection worse by adding more than 200 homes to the area.

"Overall, there is an impact, but there are certain movements that would be improved," City Engineer Rodney Tissue said. "Only certain movements would be improved. Others would get worse."

Aleshire said the city exposes itself to not only a developer's request to rezone the other 153 acres, but also to a legal challenge that the city engaged in spot-zoning by not changing that land as well.

Parson-McBean said the council has raised a number of questions for staff members to address, only to turn around after they have received the answers to those questions and ask more. She said the council eventually should accept the advice and recommendations of city staff.

"At some point, we have to say, 'We yield to your expertise on this,'" Parson-McBean said. "You can't just constantly poke holes in what they're doing."

Neither Metzner nor Parson-McBean changed their minds during the discussion, and Nigh was absent.

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