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Proposed zoning changes could pit city against county

July 29, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

Proposed changes to Washington County's Urban Growth Area (UGA) regulations could create tension between the city and county if adopted, according to city officials.

Kathy Maher, planning director for the City of Hagerstown, said Wednesday that proposed amendments to county zoning language for public facilities in the UGA conflict in part with the city's limitations for those services. That conflict could put some property owners in a difficult situation and the city at odds with the county, she said.

The county has proposed requiring that all new developments in the UGA be served by health department-approved public water and sewer unless granted a waiver, according to city documents. The city, however, does not have and cannot obtain enough capacity to serve the entire UGA, Maher said.

City planning commission members asked Maher on Wednesday to meet with the county to discuss a solution.

"I applaud the county. I think this is the right thing to do," said Douglas Wright, chairman of the Hagerstown Planning Commission. "But there are a lot of problems that need to be talked out."

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The proposed rezoning reflects long-term goals for land use, including a desire to concentrate growth in certain places and protect others from development, county officials said previously.

Jill Baker, the county's senior planner, said the language merely reflects and clarifies how the county currently addresses water and wastewater.

"It just helps us enunciate to developers what policies and procedures they are to follow," she said. "To be honest, it will not likely change what we do today. It will just be more definitive in county documents."

"It sounds to me like it's putting the customer in a predicament," said Ronald Thomas, a Hagerstown Planning Commission member.

Thomas said he was concerned about residents purchasing property only to find they cannot live on it because the county says no to on-lot septic and wells and the city says it can't provide public water and wastewater.

County planning commission members had similar concerns, Baker said. They added the language and a list of conditions for waiver to mitigate those concerns, she said.

"We recognize those situations are out there," Baker said.

It was during a review of the proposed county zoning changes that city staff noticed something was different, Maher said.

Maher raised the issue to the city planning commission because "I don't want a property owner caught between the city and the county health department," she said.

Hagerstown's 2008 Comprehensive Plan established a boundary beyond which the city does not have capacity to provide water or wastewater services for the next 20 years, Maher said.

Known as the Medium Range Growth Area, it is smaller than the Urban Growth Area because of the city's limited capacity for new customers, she said.

State regulations regarding nutrient loading of Chesapeake Bay make this situation even stickier, Maher said.

Maryland will not allow the city to further expand its wastewater treatment plant, Maher said. It similarly regulates on-lot water and septic, she said.

While nutrient loading did not explicitly prompt the county to amend its zoning language, Baker said it is a factor.

Concerned that a policy discrepancy could snowball into conflict between the city and county, Wright suggested city staff meet with the county face to face.

Maher said she copied county staff on a memo for Wednesday's meeting, but did not hear anything back.

"This is a contentious issue," she said.

Baker said she was confident the public facilities clause would come up again as the county planning commission continues tweaking its proposed UGA zoning changes.

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