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Another hearing possible on proposed Urban Growth Area rezoning

November 14, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Yet another public hearing could be in store on Washington County’s proposed comprehensive rezoning of the Urban Growth Area, according to Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey.

The UGA rezoning, which would make broad changes to zoning in the roughly 35,000-acre growth area around Hagerstown, Williamsport and Funkstown, has been in the works for years and was the subject of public hearings in October 2010 and July 2011.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to discuss Tuesday how to proceed in light of comments received from 53 property owners and other interested people during the July hearing and subsequent comment period.

“The commissioners are probably going to make recommendations or want some changes made to what was presented,” based on those comments, Downey said. “Thereafter, there will be another and final public hearing.”

Among the comments received after the July 26 hearing was a complaint from Clear Spring-area resident Gerald Ditto, who said the county planning director violated procedure by submitting a packet of additions and corrections to the commissioners at the hearing that was not made available to the public before the hearing.

Ditto wrote that because of that, “the County Attorney is bound by law to make null and void this July 26th Hearing and reschedule another Public Hearing which incorporates and includes the corrections outlined by the document in question, and to be made public as required by section 27.2” of the county zoning ordinance.

According to a copy of that packet included with Ditto’s comments, the additional changes not made public before the hearing were:

Nursery schools would be made a permitted use, rather than special exception, in the Residential Transition district.

Any subdivision that has received conditional approval of a clustering concept plan, a concept plan or a preliminary plan, or that has an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance agreement, is protected from having to make changes from that plan to comply with the updated ordinance.

Swimming pools and tennis courts would be added as accessory uses in the Residential Suburban district.

A portion of the Mt. Aetna Farms property would be given Office, Research and Technology zoning that was not shown correctly on a previous map.

An abandoned quarry on Hump Road would be given Industrial General zoning.

Downey said if the commissioners decide to schedule another public hearing, that should satisfy concerns related to the changes not made public before the July 26 hearing.

Downey said he disagreed with Ditto’s reasoning that testimony from the July 26 hearing should be made “null and void.”

“I don’t see where he has any legal basis to make that type of an argument,” Downey said. “People were commenting on information that was advertised and was out there.”

Many of the comments were requests for changes to the zoning on particular parcels. According to a comment summary chart compiled by the planning department after the hearing, about 21 requests of that type remain for consideration. There were also four requests that would involve adding properties to the UGA that are outside the boundary as proposed.

According to the summary chart, seven of the requests received would involve changes to the text of the ordinance, such as changing permitted uses for a given zoning designation. Many of those changes would require additional public hearings, the chart notes.

The Urban Growth Area rezoning is meant to implement goals of the county’s Comprehensive Plan by encouraging new development in a concentrated area around the city, rather than in rural areas, officials have said.

More information is available on the county’s website — www.washco-md.net — by clicking on UGA Public Hearing Information. That link leads to a page where people may download the proposed text amendments, map amendments, and a document containing the public hearing comments and summary chart.

The commissioners’ UGA rezoning discussion is scheduled for 1:45 p.m.

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