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Washington County seeking resident input in Town Growth Areas meetings

August 10, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Washington County is seeking public response on proposed changes to properties located within identified Town Growth Areas just outside the communities of Clear Spring, Boonsboro, Hancock and Smithsburg.

The county’s Department of Planning and Zoning has scheduled four public meetings — one in each community — in the upcoming weeks. The first is slated for the evening of Aug. 14 in Clear Spring.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the Town Growth Areas — which identify areas eyed for expansion outside the towns’ current corporate boundaries — are the final step in the county’s comprehensive plan for future development.

In past years, the county has completed comprehensive rezoning of its Rural and Urban Growth Area rezoning plans, the latter of which included areas around Hagerstown, Williamsport and Funkstown in 2012, according to Stephen T. Goodrich, county director of Planning and Zoning.

“The Town Growth Areas are areas designated around each municipality by the elected officials that says ‘This is where we see our town growing in the future,’ even up to a 20-year plan,” Murray said.

The purpose of the meetings is to give town officials and residents a chance to determine if they would like to see their growth areas changed, county officials said. If they do, they can share those concerns with the county and changes may be made.

“It doesn’t mean that they would be rezoned ... but this is the opportunity for each town” to tell the county where they see the town going, Murray said.

The towns are not subject to rezoning, only the outlying areas around each municipality identified as Town Growth Areas.

Getting on the same page about where the individual towns want to see growth in the years to come will make zoning for development and potential annexation of county land into the town go more smoothly, according to Murray.

Murray said county staff will be present for each meeting to facilitate the process and answer questions from citizens.

“They’ll be there to elaborate on this process — how the process occurs, how it’s adopted ... what information we need, and to help the municipalities themselves go through this process so that they can give us clear information and it makes it easy for them,” he said.

After receiving public input, the county will finalize its Town Growth Area rezoning for land use recommendations in its overall comprehensive plan, Murray said. The plan ultimately needs to be approved by the Washington County Board of Commissioners.


Proposed changes

Several proposed changes in districtwide zoning regulations in Town Growth Areas include allowing agriculture — as it relates to growing and harvesting of crops — to be a permitted use in all districts, according to information on the county’s website.

Animal farming has been added as a principal use in several residential and industrial districts, under the condition that it meets requirements for maintenance and disposal of animal waste.

Another proposed change relates to “new vs. existing” development, specifically in regard to development as it occurs in the future, a summary of proposed changes on the county’s website shows.

“Existing parcels that exceed the new regulation will not be required to reduce lot size or hook up to public water and sewer service unless required by the Health Department for safety reasons,” the summary said.

The proposed changes also includes a mandate that new development in Town Growth Areas will be required to be hooked into public water and sewer, if zoned in any of the following classifications: Residential Transition, Residential Suburban, Residential Urban, Residential Multifamily, Business Local, Business General, Industrial Restricted and Industrial General.

Numerous other proposed changes for Town Growth Areas are specific to each zoning district, such as agriculture, residential, business and industrial.

Property owners who potentially might be affected by any proposed Town Growth Area rezoning as part of the county’s comprehensive plan have been notified directly, Murray said.

A complete list of the proposed changes — as well as maps showing the Town Growth Areas’ current and proposed zoning — can be found on the county’s website, under the Department of Planning and Zoning.


Clear Spring

Clear Spring Town Clerk Juanita Grimm said town officials met with county planner Jill Baker several months ago to discuss their growth areas.

According to maps posted on the county’s website, a pair of small pieces of land in Clear Spring’s growth area to the north and west are proposed to be rezoned from agricultural to residential, and all the land currently zoned Rural Residential would change to Residential Transitional, a new zoning created to replace Rural Residential.

The other proposed change would rezone a large portion around Interstate 70 from Highway Interchange-1, which will be eliminated, to Highway Interchange.

Grimm said town officials have received several calls from residents about the proposed changes, including one woman who fears she might lose her chickens if her property were rezoned. Another resident expressed concern about the new public sewer hook up requirements, she said.


Boonsboro

In Boonsboro, Town Planner Megan Clark said town officials did not request any major changes to their growth areas.

The county has sent out notices to affected property owners, with a summary of the proposed changes, she said.

“Around the Boonsboro area, a lot of it was rezoned from agricultural to residential,” Clark said. “Some of it remained agricultural. ... It really just depends on the property.”

About eight small plots of land just outside Boonsboro that currently are zoned for agriculture have been proposed to become Residential Transitional, according to information on the county’s website.

Two small boundary line changes — one north and one east of town — are included in the proposed rezoning map.


Hancock

Hancock Town Manager Dave Smith said “very little change” is coming for residents just outside of town.

“Just some cleaning up,” he said of the proposed changes for Hancock’s Town Growth Areas.

In general, the growth areas extend north toward Pennsylvania and east toward I-70, and currently receive fire, police, water and sewer service from the town, Smith said.

Looking at Hancock’s zoning maps, some commercial areas have been proposed to become Residential Transitional, and a chunk of agricultural land to the north has been cut out of the growth area.

Two small pieces of Industrial General property in the town would be rezoned to a mix of Residential Transitional and Commercial, according to the map.


Smithsburg

It is proposed that Smithsburg’s Town Growth Area expand slightly to the east, with the addition of more Residential Transitional zoning over current agricultural land, according to the county’s maps.

“It doesn’t affect the town zoning as much as the people around the town that could be annexed in the future,” said Randy Dick, development coordinator and zoning administrator for Smithsburg.

A lot of areas will stay the same, but some small changes are in the works to fix some errors that were made in the original zoning, Dick said.

“There’s a lot more communications at this point in time between the county and the town,” Dick said.

As with the other towns, agricultural zoning would be replaced by Residential Transitional. Along Smithsburg Pike, northeast of town, a strip of former agricultural land is proposed to become Business General, county maps show.

It is proposed that two small tracts of land adjacent to the town to the east be rezoned to Business Local, according to the maps.

“Our comprehensive plan, we’re trying to make that up with what the county has out there,” Dick said.

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If you go ...

The Washington County Department of Planning and Zoning has scheduled the following meetings to provide information and receive public input about proposed zoning changes to properties located within designated Town Growth Areas of Clear Spring, Boonsboro, Hancock and Smithsburg.

  • Wednesday, Aug. 14, 7 p.m., Clear Spring Town Hall, 146 Cumberland St., Clear Spring.
  • Monday, Aug. 19, 7 p.m., Boonsboro Community Center, Shaffer Park, Boonsboro.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 21, 7 p.m., Hancock Town Hall, 126 W. High St., Hancock.
  • Thursday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m., Smithsburg Town Hall, 21 W. Water St., 2nd Floor, Smithsburg.
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