Rezoning approved to concentrate growth around Hagerstown

April 17, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS |

WASHINGTON COUNTY — After years of study, three public hearings and adjustments to accommodate hundreds of individual requests, Washington County on Tuesday passed a comprehensive Urban Growth Area rezoning meant to concentrate growth in the area around Hagerstown.

The rezoning, which takes effect July 1, rezones many properties and makes broad changes to zoning rules in the roughly 35,000-acre growth area.

Among other changes, no land within the UGA will have designated agricultural zoning, though agricultural land use will continue to be permitted.

The five-member Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the rezoning, with Commissioners President Terry Baker opposed.

Baker said he didn’t think the growth area had the capacity to support the increased density allowed by the changes.

He also opposed the measure because no system was put in place to compensate rural landowners whose properties were “downzoned” to lower maximum densities as part of a complementary process in 2005. Baker said he was among the property owners affected by the 2005 changes.

Both the 2005 rural area rezoning and the Urban Growth Area rezoning approved Tuesday were done to implement recommendations in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, Planning and Zoning Director Stephen Goodrich said.

The plan recommends concentrating new development around existing urban areas to protect agriculture and rural heritage, while making the most efficient use of existing and future public facilities and infrastructure, such as water and sewer service, Goodrich said.

The Comprehensive Plan also addresses making the UGA a desirable place to live, creating locations for commercial and industrial land use, and providing services and jobs to citizens, he said.

County planning employees drafted the rezoning plan, and a citizens advisory committee spent more than two years reviewing it.

The county then held two public input meetings and three public hearings on the plan, making revisions after each. The hearings attracted hundreds of affected property owners, many of whom requested different zoning than that proposed by the county.

Goodrich estimated Tuesday that the county honored at least 75 percent of those requests.

Concerns remain
Gerald Ditto, a UGA Citizens Advisory Committee member who was vocal throughout the public hearing process, told the commissioners Tuesday that his concerns still had not been addressed.

In the citizen-participation portion of the meeting, before the UGA vote, Ditto reiterated his desire for a system of transferable development rights to compensate rural landowners for the previous downzoning, as recommended by the advisory committee. He also repeated his concerns that land-use restrictions around Hagerstown Regional Airport were unreasonable.

In addition, Ditto has argued that the growth areas around other municipalities should be included in the rezoning.

The changes approved Tuesday apply only to the UGA that surrounds Hagerstown, Williamsport and Funkstown.

After the vote, Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham thanked Ditto “and the many, many citizens that wrote, called, emailed, visited, that were part of this process.”

Cline added his thanks to the citizens advisory group for its work, noting its members sometimes met three times a month to review the lengthy and complex changes.

“It doesn’t matter where you start measuring the time that we’ve spent on the Urban Growth Area comprehensive rezoning and the Urban Growth Area boundary amendments; where we are today has been a long time in coming,” Goodrich said.

The commissioners agreed previously that if a preliminary subdivision plat or a site plan is submitted to the county before July 1, the submitter will have the option to have it considered under the current zoning.

Those who wish their plans to be considered under the new zoning rules may begin the approval process before July 1, but approvals using the new zoning will not be granted until the rezoning takes effect, Goodrich has said.

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