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City Council might back APFO

February 22, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Council members said Tuesday they might support an ordinance designed to control the pace of development within the city's borders, moving beyond earlier concerns that doing so would relinquish too much of that decision-making power to Washington County officials.

The county has asked municipalities to adopt Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances similar to one the county adopted in 1990 and has made amendments to as recently as this past summer. The ordinance contains growth regulations intended to help ensure schools, roads and other public services and facilities are adequate to handle additional development.

The regulations are tied to municipalities' access to county excise tax funding, and under certain conditions municipalities could be prohibited from allowing additional development. With each of the city's elementary schools at or beyond capacity, city officials were worried that adopting an APFO would essentially bring a halt to development. They were particularly concerned about blocking development in portions of the city targeted for revitalization. By failing to adopt an ordinance, the city would be ineligible to receive its share of county excise tax revenues which, from last July to this month, came to about $476,000, according to city information.

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During an informal meeting Feb. 12, council members Lewis C. Metzner and Kristin B. Aleshire developed a possible compromise with Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval that appeared to help the city and county get over an impasse. The proposal was presented to council members last Tuesday during a work session attended by the county commissioners and county staff members.

The three agreed to let the city allow some additional development that might not otherwise have been allowed with the county's ordinance. Under the agreement, the county would have the right to reject those plans, but only if it has reasonable concerns to do so. City Attorney William P. Nairn said Tuesday he felt the word "unreasonable" could prove to be a bit nebulous in the eyes of the law.

"I'm not sure how much legal protection it gives," Nairn said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the wording was intentionally kept undefined and that he believes, if the county wants to reject something the city has approved, it will be required to explain why.

"There is no question at all that this agreement is based on trust," Metzner said. "I think it's important for city government to be told by the government that they won't unreasonably withhold it."

The council is scheduled to vote Tuesday to publicly advertise the ordinance, but the city's planning commission needs to review the document before council can formally approve it. The council did not say when it could be in a position to approve the ordinance.

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