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Hagerstown Towne Centre project will have to wait

October 22, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Facing a roomful of contractors slated to work on the Hagerstown Towne Centre project, the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday decided not to support a rezoning that would have allowed the project to move forward immediately.

As a result, the developer of Hagerstown Towne Centre will have to wait five years to break ground on the massive retail project at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Interstate 70 east of Hagerstown.

A concept plan for Hagerstown Towne Centre includes a wholesale club, department store, cinema, home-improvement store, two hotels, three office buildings and as many as 13 retail stores.

It is one of two similar shopping centers proposed for the intersection.

Proponents of the $242 million Hagerstown Towne Centre have said it would add about 9,000 jobs to the Hagerstown area and bring services to the east end of Washington County, while opponents say the shopping center would clog roads and lower the quality of life for residents on and around Landis Road, which would border the shopping center.

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Bruce Dean, an attorney for Washco Development, said Tuesday it is unclear how the commissioners' decision will affect the future of Hagerstown Towne Centre or Washco Development's plans to have the property annexed.

"No question we would have preferred to have been granted express consent," Dean said.

The County Commissioners were unanimous in their decision not to give express approval, which is required when an annexation from the county into the City of Hagerstown would significantly change a property's zoning.

In this case, the land, known as Doub Farm, is zoned for some residential and commercial uses in the county, but would be allowed to house high-density commercial development if annexed into the city.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval, Commissioners Vice President Terry L. Baker and Commissioner William J. Wivell said proposals by the developer did not do enough to offset the negative effects the shopping center would have.

The developer, Petrie Ross Ventures, proposed widening Dual Highway to six lanes from Interstate 70 to Edgewood Drive by creating a road club.

Road clubs allow a developer to front the costs of road improvements and recoup some of those costs later as new projects are built in the area.

Petrie Ross also proposed buffering the shopping center from nearby homes with berms and trees, but some commissioners and planners have argued that the proposed buffering would not provide residents enough shield from the shopping center.

"Someday, this property is going to have either a lot of residential homes or something a little more mixed use," Kercheval said. "But for me to do the express approval ... I needed something to mitigate that, and I don't feel that was offered."

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire voted not to support the rezoning, but said he would reconsider the request if the shopping center was realigned to lessen the burden on Landis Road residents.

About 50 people wearing "Yes to Doub" stickers filled the commissioners' room during the discussion Tuesday. Most of them worked for contractors that would be employed on the project.

Mike Reffo, who owns Supreme Plumbing Inc., said Hagerstown Towne Centre would be a boon to the economy because the developer is working with local contractors.

"This is something that can boost our economy," Reffo said.

Several of the contractors also wore "Say no to Beaver Creek" T-shirts, referring to the other shopping center planned for the intersection.

That project, called Hagerstown Gateway, does not need support from the county commissioners to move forward because the land already is zoned to allow intense commercial development.

Jason M. Divelbiss, an attorney for Faison Enterprises Inc., the developer of Hagerstown Gateway, said the commissioners' decision on Doub Farm will make it easier for Faison to move forward if the Doub Farm annexation is delayed.

"It helps us kind of clear the waters," Divelbiss said. "It eliminates conversations about (how the two shopping centers compare)."

Economic development officials and others in Washington County have said it is unlikely that the area could support both shopping centers at the intersection.

Faison has received letters of intent from Costco Wholesale Club and Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres to open in Hagerstown Gateway, but has not yet submitted a site plan to the county.

During Tuesday's discussion, Wivell pointed out that the sluggish economy will make it difficult for any large retail development to move forward right now.

"This discussion is much ado about nothing," Wivell said. "Our action delays construction for five years. It doesn't delay planning. This property will be developed in better economic times."

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