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Growth report suggests Washington County build up, not out

October 20, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Build up, not out.

It is the essential tenet of a report released recently by a committee tasked with reviewing growth policies in Washington County's most urban areas.

The report, created by the Urban Growth Area Advisory Committee, suggests ways in which the Washington County Commissioners can steer new development to what is called the urban growth area, which circles the City of Hagerstown and the county's larger towns.

The report recommends raising limits on building height and density in the growth area.

It advocates "mixed-use" zones that would, for example, allow restaurants and condos in the same building.

It also suggests creating a transferable development rights (TDR) program, which would let rural landowners sell their development rights to landowners in urban areas.

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"They were dealing primarily with the question of 'how do we focus growth in the (urban growth area) instead of in the rural areas?'" said Michael C. Thompson, the county's planning director.

The most eagerly anticipated section of the committee's report, recommendations on rezoning individual land parcels in the urban growth area, is not yet complete.

Thompson said the group is still working on those recommendations, which could be finished by the end of the year.

Rezonings would have to be approved by the Washington County Commissioners and would be subject to public hearings.

Reaction to the report varied last week among the County Commissioners.

Several commissioners said they had not read the report.

Commissioners President John F. Barr said he preferred not to comment because he had not read the entire report.

Commissioner William J. Wivell also said he had not read the report, but was receptive to the idea of creating a TDR program, which would allow urban landowners to build beyond density limits if they purchase development rights from rural landowners.

The program, which is used in other counties, is designed to steer growth from rural areas to urban areas.

"I am a proponent of TDR programs generally," Wivell said. "But there are certain complexities in them."

He said the last time a TDR program was considered, the county was not building to allowable densities, which would negate the need for landowners to pay for extra density.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said the committee should have considered current limits on wastewater capacity when drafting the report.

Instead, the committee says the commissioners "should not allow the current limits on wastewater capacity (to) dictate the zoning densities throughout the (urban growth area)."

"How can you ignore the most limiting factor that you can measure your future growth by?" Aleshire said.

Thompson, who advised the committee but was not a member, said the committee did not consider water and sewer capacity because the report was meant strictly to deal with long-term land use.

"Limits will play a part, and it has an impact on things right now. But you're looking at a 20- to 30-year plan. It does not mean that everybody's ignoring capacity issues," Thompson said.

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