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Public speaks out about proposed Hagerstown Towne Centre

July 16, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- About 50 people attended a public meeting Tuesday evening at Hagerstown Community College to comment on a shopping center that has been proposed near Interstate 70 and U.S. 40.

The Washington County Commissioners hosted the meeting at the college's Kepler Theater to get input on a proposed annexation and zoning change that would allow the center to be built.

County officials made clear at the beginning of the meeting that the county has no power to approve or deny the shopping center, which would be voted on by the Hagerstown City Council after the land is annexed.

During the hearing, however, concept drawings for the shopping center were displayed on stage.

"You say it's not about a shopping center. Yet, at every county meeting there's a shopping center developer with slides," said Jeff Taylor, who lives on Landis Road near where the shopping center would be built.

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Petrie Ross Ventures, an Annapolis-based development company, has proposed a 142-acre shopping center at the intersection.

The development, called 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 but the developer has asked the City of Hagerstown to annex the land so the center could connect to the city's water and sewer systems.

The city can annex the land without county approval but, because of zoning differences, could not build a shopping center there for five years unless the county commissioners support the annexation.

Tuesday's meeting was part of the commissioners' effort to gather information before they decide whether to support the annexation.

Almost all of the people who attended the meeting were opposed to the proposal. Many live near where the shopping center would be built.

Some people said they understand the land will be developed but said they would prefer a business park or residential development over a shopping center.

"I'm gonna set on my front porch and look at a Home Depot or whatever will go in there," said Diane Barnhart, who lives on Londontowne Drive.

Petrie Ross has offered to keep all buildings 100 feet from nearby homes and 50 feet from Landis Road, which would border the shopping center's north edge.

Earlier this month, Washington County Planning Commission Chairman George Anikis said those distances should be increased.

"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.

Moquit A. Malik, director of education for the Islamic Society of Western Maryland, which sits near the western edge of the proposed center, said Tuesday he was more comfortable with a proposal made two years ago to build homes and some retail on the property.

Malik said the commissioners should withhold support for the annexation in hopes that the housing market will turn around.

"Certainly, I feel that by you guys saying no to this annexation, within a five-year period the housing market will return. That area is more suitable for housing than low-paying, retail jobs," Malik said.

Only one person spoke in favor of the shopping center at the meeting.

Susan Stepnick, who lives in the south end of Hagerstown, said she is excited about the prospect of having a shopping center closer to her home.

"When you live in the south end, you have to drive across town to get to anything," Stepnick said.

Why 5 p.m.?



The Washington County Commissioners held a public meeting Tuesday to hear comments on a proposed annexation and zoning change that would allow a shopping center to be built on the eastern edge of Hagerstown.

Before the meeting began, some people in the audience questioned the decision to schedule the meeting at 5 p.m., saying it might be too early for some people to attend.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the meeting was scheduled at that time to allow people to stop by on their way home from work.

"It was done that way so people wouldn't have to go home and then come back out," Murray said.

About 50 people attended the meeting. All were there when the meeting began.

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