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Hagerstown considers overlay business zoning

August 23, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

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What: Hagerstown Planning Commission public hearing on proposed Local Conversion District

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Hagerstown City Hall, council chamber

HAGERSTOWN -- Owners of many neighborhood businesses in Hagerstown have a dilemma: If they close for more than a year, they can't reopen.

They're in residential zones and may operate only because they predate the zoning ordinance.

Those that lose their exempt status may apply for a less-intensive use.

Stephen Bockmiller, the city's zoning administrator, said about 200 properties are affected by this zoning limitation.

The names suggest tradition: Corderman's Hardware on West Washington Street, Dick's Market on Salem Avenue, Gordon's Grocery on Cypress Street.

Many date to a time when the local grocer, barber and baker sustained a neighborhood, before zoning segregated similar uses.

"The existing zoning ordinance is hostile to them," Bockmiller said.

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Planning Director Kathleen Maher said the reasoning behind nonconforming uses is that they'll eventually go away. Neighborhood businesses, though, serve a purpose, so the city's trying to do something to help them.

Diner can't reopen

For more than 30 years, the View Street Diner was open near Hagerstown's Pangborn Park.

Dottie Thompson closed the neighborhood eatery in 2000 and retired, saying it was becoming too difficult to find and keep good help. Thompson died in 2004.

Now, Thompson's daughter, Frances Clingan would like to reopen the diner.

She's stuck.

"I own a restaurant that I cannot open because of the zoning," she said.

Her brother, Timothy Thompson, runs a toy-model business called House of Plastics in the diner building.

Clingan, who sells baked goods at the city's farmers market, said the building will need repairs. She said some neighbors have agreed to park behind their homes to free up some parking spaces.

Specific uses considered

The Hagerstown Planning Commission is holding a public hearing Wednesday on the proposed Local Conversion District zone.

Property owners would have to apply for the overlay zone, which would apply to buildings that were built before 1950. Lots could be no larger than 20,000 square feet and must be accessible from a public street.

The new overlay zoning would offer more flexibility in shaping a neighborhood. Maher said the city can't create pockets of commercial uses; that would be spot zoning.

Besides what's already allowed, permitted uses in the new district would include dry cleaning and laundry; hair, nail and skin care services; business and professional offices; and banks.

A restaurant could be no bigger than 3,000 gross square feet and a retail shop no bigger than 5,000 gross square feet.

As part of the review process, the city would consider specific proposed uses. Generally, owners don't have to describe their plans for the property when they ask for a zone change.

"If you change the use, it would go back through the process," Bockmiller said.

Applicants would have to show their intent to invest in a property and make it compatible with the neighborhood.

The Local Conversion District plan is part of a citywide four-phase comprehensive zoning review that includes map and text changes.

Still ahead is a look at the Jonathan Street area, the northeast quadrant east of North Potomac Street and the East End, according to a Planning Department summary.

From TV repairs to insurance

Stine Davis & Peck Insurance Agency has an option to buy a building at Chestnut Avenue and West Howard Street in the South End. It was a TV repair shop until March, a bicycle repair shop before then.

G. Scott Davis said he and his wife, Diane Trea Davis, would move the office there from South Cleveland Avenue, where it's been for about 20 years.

The office is down to two people, so they don't need as much space as they've had.

The couple kept their eye on the building after seeing it while eating at Bubba's Deli nearby.

The former repair shop also has three residential units, one of which Davis expects his sons would take.

"We fit in nicely," he said of their office and residential plans.

Trying to sell

Nestled into a West Wilson Boulevard neighborhood, the Corsi's Pizza Parlour building looked much like any other house, other than the business sign.

The family-operated basement restaurant closed in June 2008 after nearly 50 years.

The Corsi family's Realtor, Matt Dattilio of Coldwell Banker Innovations, said the family has tried to sell the property. Two purchase contracts have fallen through.

The market for the property got tougher once the one-year nonconforming-use deadline passed in June. That meant the restaurant could not re-open.

Dattilio said prospective buyers are wary of the property's limited use.

The asking price is $275,000. The property could sell as a home, Dattilio said, "just not for the same price."

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