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Washington Co. commissioners discuss Urban Growth Area rezoning

November 15, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Terry Baker, president of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to convince other commissioners that the county’s comprehensive rezoning of the Urban Growth Area should coincide with the introduction of a system of transferable development rights.

Transferable development rights, or TDRs, have been advocated by some as a way of compensating rural landowners for equity they lost in 2005, when the county reduced the development density allowed in rural areas.

Now, the county is preparing to adopt a complementary rezoning plan meant to encourage development in the “urban growth area” around Hagerstown, Funkstown and Williamsport.

Because many urban growth area property owners would gain valuable development potential under the rezoning, farmer Gerald Ditto has led a push to require developers to buy TDRs from rural landowners before taking advantage of denser or more-intense land use allowances.

If that urban-area “upzoning” occurs without requiring the purchase of TDRs, there would be little demand for increased development rights, and the opportunity to compensate rural land owners would be lost, advocates have argued.

Baker said when a previous board of commissioners approved the rural area rezoning in 2005, they did so contingent upon developing a system of tranferable development rights.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the condition was that a proposed system be presented to the commissioners. That happened, and the commissioners rejected the idea, Murray said.

Commissioners Ruth Anne Callaham and William B. McKinley said Tuesday they were open to discussing TDRs, but did not want to delay approval of the UGA rezoning to do so. Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said he was not interested in TDRs, and Commissioner John F. Barr was absent.

Although TDRs were not to be added, the commissioners did agree Tuesday to some small changes to the proposed UGA plan that had been requested by property owners, most of which involved the zoning designations for individual properties.

Those changes will go to a public hearing, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 13, Murray said.

The hearing will also give the public an opportunity to comment on changes to the UGA plan that were distributed to the commissioners but not to the public before a July public hearing on the plan, County Attorney Kirk C. Downey has said.

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