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Growth task force gathers comments at Hagerstown forum

September 26, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN -- Splashes of red dots spread across southern and eastern Washington County as state planning officials toggled between maps showing historical, current and projected development in Western Maryland.

The series of maps, each more red than the previous, was part of the Smart Growth Listening Session at the Bridge of Life Church in Hagerstown.

The forum Thursday night was hosted by the Maryland Department of Planning and the Task Force on the Future of Growth and Development in Maryland.

After a presentation, people were asked to comment on how they would like to see their communities grow and what they want to preserve.

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The forum drew about 60 people, including elected officials, planners and community activists eager to talk about preservation, public transportation, water conservation and other planning issues.

The state adopted smart growth legislation in the 1990s to help fund development concentrated in established communities.

But in the last 10 years, 75 percent of growth across the state has occurred outside of those areas, Maryland Planning Director Richard E. Hall said at the forum.

Hall said the state is holding a series of similar forums across the state to ask people how the state should approach smart growth.

"What kind of Maryland do we want in the future?" Hall asked the crowd.

Several people complained about open storefronts in Hagerstown and Washington County, saying the state should do more to promote the reuse of abandoned buildings.

"I can see a string of abandoned stores Lowe's has left in its wake as it has hopped around town," Kevin Seburn said.

George Anikis, chairman of the Washington County Planning Commission, said incentives are needed to encourage builders to construct more moderately-priced housing.

A few farmers mentioned the effect downzoning has had on their properties.

When land is downzoned, fewer houses per acre are allowed.

"Most farmers see it as taking equity away from them. When you change it, you're taking money out of their pockets," Joe Kuhn said.

Jim Laird, president of Citizens for Protection of Washington County, asked the state to take a broader role in forest conservation in Washington County.

"It appears that any developer who wishes can just chop the trees down," Laird said.

Hall said the task force will use comments gathered at the listening sessions to help create a report on development issues requested by Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly.

The report is due by Dec. 1.

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