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Opposition continues against Washington County's proposed land-use regulations

Many Hancock-area residents fear town taxes, being forced to hook up to public water and sewer service

August 21, 2013|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK — Opposition to a Washington County proposal to change land-use regulations around four towns including Hancock showed no signs of abating Wednesday night when about 65 people turned out for an informational meeting —  including one resident who brought a petition with 66 signatures of people against the plan.

Residents who would be affected by the land-use changes said they are afraid of being forced to hook up to public water and sewer service, and that they will be forced to pay town taxes if the regulations are passed.

In one exchange between county planner Jill Baker and a man in the audience at Hancock Town Hall, Baker asked what the county could do to help him.

“Leave us alone,” the man said.

The man’s response drew some applause from other people, prompting Baker to ask for civility in the meeting.

“I would appreciate the clapping to stop,” Baker said.

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The proposed changes would be in designated Town Growth Areas, which are just outside the corporate boundaries of Hancock, Boonsboro, Clear Spring and Smithsburg.

Land-use changes are being proposed for those areas, because county officials anticipate they will see growth in the future.

Prior to the meeting, Baker said that the proposed rezonings would affect areas differently. Some property owners will not see any changes, while other areas would see changes in housing densities, she said.

Generally, the proposed laws are intended to channel growth into the affected districts, Baker said.

The petition directed to the county Department of Planning and Zoning addressed proposed changes to Sensel, Robinson and Hess Roads, and Tulip Lane. The petition asks the county to leave the areas under the Conservation District instead of the Residential, Transitional District.

Larry and Michelle Iden, who live in that area, fear they will be forced to hook up to town water and sewer, and have to pay town taxes. They said it would be the start of increased regulation that would only grow.

As she has done previously, Baker tried to clear up misconceptions about the rezoning.

She said taxes will not change as a result of the rezoning. An existing house in the proposed rezoning area will have the same taxes if the house remains the same, Baker said. 

But if the property owner adds a beauty parlor to the house, then the owner might get a visit from the tax assessor, because taxes are based on use of a property, Baker said.

She also said existing homes will not be forced to hook up to public water and sewer. Only new homes will be forced to do so, and some new homes might get a waiver from the requirement if hooking up to public utilities is unrealistic, Baker said.

And people who live in the areas proposed to be rezoned will not be forced to become part of Hancock, she said. The county has no authority to pick up parcels and move them into municipal areas.

“State law says that,” Baker said.

Lester Souders, who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue, was among those worried about being forced to hook up to the town’s water and sewer service.

Souders said he has his septic tank pumped out every two years, and he has his own water source.

“I had my water tested against their water, and it’s better water,” Souders said.

Ludwell Fling said he fears the cost of extending water and sewer service to his neighborhood on Sensel Road.

He also worries he will get stuck with paying for the extension, which will “put me in the hole.”

The meeting was the third on the proposed regulations, all of which have elicited concerns from residents over water capacity and property rights.

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