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Planning staff to discuss rezoning for Urban Growth Area

Public information session is the first of two scheduled

June 29, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County planning staff will hold a public meeting Thursday night to discuss a proposed comprehensive rezoning for the county's Urban Growth Area.

The rezoning was called for in the county's 2002 comprehensive plan to reflect longterm goals for land use, including a desire to concentrate growth in certain places and protect others from development, according to a county press release.

The Urban Growth Area is a designated area around Hagerstown, Williamsport and Funkstown where development is encouraged, the release said.

"Growth and development are encouraged in the Urban Growth Area because facilities and services already exist there and can be improved or expanded economically," the release said.

The proposed changes complement zoning changes for the rural areas of Washington County that were adopted in 2005.

The proposed Urban Growth Area changes were developed by planning staff and have been modified and adopted by the Washington County Planning Commission. In addition, a 14-member Urban Growth Area Advisory Committee spent about two years reviewing the recommended changes and issued its own 394-page report in August 2009.

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The proposals include changes to both the text of the county's zoning ordinance for urban zones and map amendments that change zoning districts for some properties.

Washington County Planning Commission Chair George Anikis said two of the most controversial issues related to the Urban Growth Area rezoning were related to agriculture within the growth area and land-use restrictions meant to protect the airport from birds and other wildlife that could pose safety problems for aircraft.

"The original thought was that there should not be any agricultural (land use) in the Urban Growth Area; that was where you wanted homes," Anikis said.

However, planning officials did not want to eliminate the ability for existing farming operations to continue, so they at first discussed allowing existing agriculture to continue for a given period of time, he said. After more discussion, they eventually agreed that while there would not be any designated agricultural zones within the growth area, agriculture would be considered a permanent permitted use there, with some restrictions, Anikis said.

The airport issue stemmed from Federal Aviation Administration guidelines meant to protect aircraft from birds and other hazardous wildlife, Anikis said. Because the county accepted federal grant money for its runway extension, it is required to follow FAA guidelines, he said.

How to implement that requirement was controversial, but planning officials settled on a plan that leaves it up to the airport manager to review any potential plans for farms or other businesses that might cause a problem for flight operations, Anikis said.

Thursday's public information session is the first of two the county has scheduled. The second meeting will be July 21 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Springfield Middle School, at 334 Sunset Avenue in Williamsport, the press release said.

"Comments from citizens during the public information meetings may prompt changes to the proposed amendments before formal public hearings take place later this year," the release said.

Comments also may be sent by mail to the Planning Commission in the Washington County Administrative Annex at 80 W. Baltimore St., Hagerstown, MD 21742 or by e-mail to askplanning@washco-md.net">askplanning@washco-md.net.

If you go...



What: Public information meeting on proposed comprehensive rezoning in Washington County's Urban Growth Area

When: Thursday at 7 p.m.

Where: Hagerstown Community College Classroom Building lecture hall (CLR111)

On the Web:



View the proposed changes at http://www.washco-md.net (click on Urban Growth Area Rezoning under Latest County News)

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