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'Conflict' didn't seem to benefit zoning task force

April 13, 2007|by Thomas A. Firey

In an April 10 letter to the editor, Jim Laird, president of the group Citizens to Protect Washington County, suggests that personal financial interests motivated the recommendations of a 2004 county task force on rural rezoning. Laird demands that when Washington County's commissioners form the new Urban Area zoning task force, they appoint members more to Laird's liking.

As a member of the 2004 panel, I assure Laird that even if we had acted in the improper manner he alleges, it wouldn't have affected the county's rural zoning policy.

The only significant recommendation of ours that was adopted was one that the commissioners had instructed us to make - that larger rural parcels be allowed to subdivide at least three, four or five building lots, depending on the size of the parcel. Other than that, the panel's efforts were ignored, despite the hard work, long hours and personal expense of the members.

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If the new zoning task force is to fill the same role as the 2004 task force, then I sincerely hope that Laird and his fellow group members comprise the new task force.

Concerning his claim that the 2004 panel was unfairly slanted toward certain viewpoints, Laird seems to forget the circumstances that led to the panel's formation.

The commissioners (with Laird's fervent approval) had decided to tear up the 1973 zoning compromise between the county's rural and suburban populations. Instead, the commission (again with Laird's fervent approval) wanted to extinguish all but a tenth of the development rights that the compromise had given to the rural three-quarters of the county, with no compensation to the farmers and other rural landholders who were adversely affected by the change.

Rural residents were understandably in revolt over this decision. To calm the political waters, the commissioners appointed the task force - ostensibly to address rural residents' concerns, but really to bide time until the anger abated and the county could pass the rezoning.

The sudden interest in urban rezoning by both Laird and the county commission does raise an interesting question.

The 2002 county comprehensive plan, which Laird's group enthusiastically endorsed and which set this entire rezoning cycle in motion, noted that only 20 percent of the growth occurring in Washington County was in the "rural" three-quarters of the county.

Some 80 percent of the growth was in the urban and suburban areas that are rife with congestion and require expensive public infrastructure.

The small amount of rural growth was subsequently constrained by, first, the 2002 building moratorium and then the 2005 rezoning. Curiously, the more costly, more troublesome and far more rapid growth in the county's urban and suburban areas has been largely ignored for half a decade. Why is that?

Thomas A. Firey is a Washington County native who was a member of the rural rezoning task force.

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