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Washington County property owners question zoning changes

July 26, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County officials Tuesday night heard from a long line of property owners unhappy with zoning changes proposed for their properties during a public hearing about the county's proposed Urban Growth Area plan.

About 60 people attended the hearing at Hager Hall Conference and Event Center.

The Urban Growth Area rezoning includes changes to the zoning map  and the text of the county zoning ordinance for the roughly 35,000-acre urban area around Hagerstown, Williamsport and Funkstown.

Unlike the testimony at an October hearing — during which residents protested broad changes related to highway interchange zoning and a wildlife mitigation area around the airport, both of which were later modified — nearly all of the testimony Tuesday concerned requested zoning for individual properties.

In many cases, the property owners or their representatives suggested a different zoning designation that they argued would be more consistent with the current use, surrounding area, or future plans for their lots.

Already, many such requests have been granted, Chief Senior Planner Stephen T. Goodrich said. Of 165 requests received by the county during the October public hearings and comment period, 75 percent were honored, he said.

A few of those who spoke Tuesday encouraged the county not to draw out the rezoning process any longer.

"I'm kind of in limbo," said John Hammond of Williamsport, who said he owns a house that needs work, but is waiting to learn its future zoning before deciding what to do with the property.

Real estate appraiser Richard Bowers asked when the plan would be adopted, saying he had been considering proposed zoning in his appraisals since October.

Attorney Jason Divelbiss suggested the county approve the zoning map changes before approving the text amendments so property owners would know what their properties would be zoned and could focus on the applicable district when evaluating the proposed text changes.

The UGA comprehensive rezoning, which began in 2006, is intended to implement the recommendations of the county's comprehensive plan, particularly to encourage development near existing infrastructure rather than in more rural areas, Goodrich said.

The proposed changes remove agriculture as a district within the UGA, but retain it as a permitted use, he said. Much of the roughly 9,000 acres that are zoned agriculture within the UGA will be rezoned industrial restricted, he said.

Within residential districts, many of the proposed changes are meant to encourage greater density, such as reducing minimum lot sizes and front yard setbacks, Goodrich said.

Within business districts, some of the changes are aimed at improving design regulations and requiring more green space, he said.

The record will remain open through the close of business on Aug. 5 for additional comments, Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey said.

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