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New residential growth in Washington County stunted in 2008

July 06, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
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New residential growth continued to decline in Washington County in 2008, with much of the home building that did occur happening in rural areas, according to a draft of the Washington County Planning Commission's annual report.

"The single-family detached residence, built in the rural areas, once again leads the market in new housing," the draft report says, noting that many of the buildable lots in the county's designated "growth areas" are controlled by large regional builders who have put their developments on hold.

Washington County Planning Director Michael C. Thompson said while the county has been encouraged to keep residential construction in the growth areas, there is little that can be done about the scattered homes popping up outside of them.

"A farmer takes a few lots for family members or just wants to sell 'em off," Thompson said. "There's many lots that are out there that have been there for years. We can't just ignore those and say, 'no, you can't build on it.'"

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A significant down-zoning in 2005 reduced the pressure for the creation of major subdivisions in the county's rural areas, but small ones continue to be created there, the report says.

In 2009, 67 percent of newly created residential lots were outside the designated growth areas, compared to about 53 percent in 2008 and 16 percent in 2007, the report says.

Of the 33 new residential subdivisions approved in 2008, 30 were in rural areas, the report shows. Many of those rural "subdivisions" consisted of splitting one lot into two or three, county planners said.

The three residential subdivisions in urban growth areas consist of 27 potential lots, while the 30 in rural areas consist of 56 potential lots.

One of those urban subdivisions was the 25-lot Regent Park on Trovinger Mill Road near Hagerstown, the only major subdivision approved in 2008, planner Fred Nugent said.

The report also shows one commercial and two industrial subdivisions were approved in 2009, all in urban growth areas.

Washington County Planning Commission Chairman George Anikis said he was concerned about the idea of growth in the rural areas, but did not think it was happening in large numbers.

"I'm one of those who want to see the rural area remain rural," Anikis said. "This county is a rural county and I think the overwhelming majority of people who live in this county want to see it maintain a rural way of life."

Planning officials stressed that the creation of subdivisions does not immediately or automatically trigger new construction, as many lots sit for years before being built or get stalled mid-development.

Building permits issued for homes in Washington County decreased about 17 percent from 2008 to 2009, with permits for 134 residential units issued in 2009, down from 162 in 2008, Nugent said.

Those totals included replacement homes, which planning officials said are becoming increasingly popular due to the economy.

While five years ago those who wanted bigger and better homes might have decided to move, today they might rebuild their current home or remodel and add onto it, Anikis said.

"Now I think it's 'let's just modernize the bathroom and stay here,'" he said.

Of the 1,031 residential building permits issued in the county in 2009, 87 percent were for additions, renovations, decks, garages, pools or other improvements, as opposed to permits for homes, according to the report.

Those who do build homes also are trending toward smaller homes and being more judicious about what they put in them, Anikis said.

"I think we've gone past the granite (counter) tops and 11-foot ceilings," he said. "People are starting to realize 11-foot ceilings require a lot of energy to heat, and granite tops are no better than any other tops when it comes to putting plates on it."

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