Hagerstown Towne Centre plan generates traffic concerns

July 08, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Traffic, road improvements and quality of life were some of the topics addressed Monday night during a discussion of the Washington County Planning Commission.

The discussion, which was requested by the Washington County Commissioners, focused on the possible effects of a shopping center proposed for the intersection of U.S. 40 and Interstate 70.

Most of the planning commissioners said they agreed that the biggest concerns were with traffic, particularly at the center's proposed entrance on U.S. 40; buffering between the shopping center and residents of Landis Road; and a possible second access point off Landis Road.

Other concerns included the effect the center would have on prayers at a nearby mosque, the possibility that storefront lighting could create a "halo effect" above the center and old documents that show there might be an 18th-century cemetery on the site.


"There are a lot of details to consider with a proposal like this," County Commissioner and Planning Commissioner James F. Kercheval said before the meeting.

Petrie Ross Ventures, an Annapolis-based development company, has proposed a 142-acre shopping center at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Interstate 70.

Hagerstown Towne Centre would include almost 900,000 square feet of retail space, a cinema, two hotels and three office buildings, according to a concept plan for the project.

The property is in the county and is not zoned for a large shopping center; however, the land likely would be annexed into the City of Hagerstown so the center could connect to the city's water and sewer system.

A separate developer, Faison Enterprises, is proposing a similar shopping center at the southeast corner of the intersection.

Many officials have said it is unlikely that both centers will be built; instead, they think the first plan to receive permits will be the one that is constructed.

The results of Monday's planning commission meeting will be summarized and presented to the county commissioners, Kercheval said. The commissioners in two weeks will hold a public meeting on the proposed annexation.

The public meeting, which is scheduled for July 15 at 5 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, is not required by law but was scheduled to give residents a chance to comment on the proposal.

The goal, the commissioners say, is to get as much information as possible before they decide whether to support the annexation.

The city can annex the property without the commissioners' approval.

Due to zoning differences, however, the land could not be developed into a shopping center for five years if the commissioners do not grant what is called express approval.

The county commissioners last month tabled a request from the Hagerstown City Council to give express approval to the annexation, saying they want to know as much as they can about the shopping center's impact before offering their support.

Kercheval said that information will be used to attach conditions to express approval if it is given.

"Express approval is your leverage," Kercheval said. "It's the carrot that you hold."

About 15 residents attended Monday night's planning commission meeting.

The planning commission's meetings are not open to public comment.

Several people at the meeting could be seen taking notes on the discussion.

Others scoffed when they heard about some of the proposed requirements, such as 40 feet of buffering between homes on Landis Road and the edge of the development.

Planning Commission Chairman George Anikis said the city should ensure that more is done to protect residents.

"Those people have been here a long time, and they deserve a lot better than looking at two football fields of parking lots," Anikis said.

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