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Kercheval says Washington County zoning should be more specific

July 23, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County should zone some areas more specifically so residents have a better idea about what might be built near their homes, County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said Tuesday.

The comment came during a discussion with planning officials, who are in the process of rezoning the county's urban growth areas.

Kercheval pointed specifically to zoning around highway interchanges, noting that land in those areas is zoned to allow a wide variety of development.

"I've been a little frustrated when we have zoning that tries to take in too much. It's hard for people to make good decisions, to say 'do I want to live next to this or not?'" Kercheval said.

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Kercheval has said in the past that the county should limit retail development near highway interchanges, which officials consider prime land because it is easily accessible.

He clarified those comments Tuesday, saying that it is not necessarily the retail, but the mix, that is the problem.

"We tend to allow it to be built with anything else. Maybe it needs to be considered differently and not mixed in with other projects," Kercheval said.

Governments use zoning to regulate what can be built on a piece of property.

Many of the county's large shopping centers are near highway interchanges.

Two proposed retail centers near the intersection of Interstate 70 and U.S. 40 have drawn the ire of some nearby residents, who argue that the land should be developed with apartments or an office park instead.

Kercheval said more specific zoning would give residents, and elected officials, a better idea of what might be built near their homes in the future.

"A little more thought needs to go into the vision of the county and how zoning applies to that," Kercheval said.

County planners and a committee created last year are reviewing zoning classifications in the county's urban growth areas, which circle Hagerstown and the county's larger towns.

Washington County Chief Planner Stephen T. Goodrich said Tuesday that the committee should finish its review soon.

The committee's recommendations will be taken to the Washington County Planning Commission, and then shown to the public through a series of public meetings and finally a public hearing before the county commissioners vote on the proposals.

Goodrich said the county's planning department has no intention of changing the growth area's boundary at this time.

He also said most properties that are zoned for low-density residential development will not be changed.

Even after the commissioners adopt the zoning changes, property owners can appeal rezonings on their land, Goodrich said.

Kercheval recommended Tuesday that the county mail notices to property owners whose land would be rezoned.

Committee Chairman Richard Phoebus, who was at Tuesday's meeting, said the committee will suggest that the county adopt a program through which rural landowners could transfer their development rights to urban property owners.

The practice, called transferable development rights, is used in other counties to contain development in urban areas.

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