Washington County, MD: County offers second chance to speak on
plan to limit residential growth in rural areas
Hundreds of people attended Monday's hearing on the plan, which proposes reducing the number of homes allowed in agricultural areas.
Hundreds attend public hearing
by TARA REILLY
Washington County, MD - Most of the hundreds of people who turned out for a public hearing Monday night urged the Washington County Commissioners to reject the county's proposed plan to rezone more than 250,000 acres in rural areas.
Residents said they wanted the County Commissioners to instead form a task force of residents, including farmers and other landowners, to study the plan and come up with recommendations on how to make the proposal fair to all county taxpayers.
The joint public hearing with the commissioners and the Washington County Planning Commission was held at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.
Nearly every seat in the auditorium was full, and some people sat along the theater's stage and gathered around the doorway.
Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said 89 people signed up to speak, but about 60 people would be heard Monday night. A second public hearing would be scheduled to accommodate the rest of those who signed up, Snook said.
As of 8:45 p.m., two of the 42 people who had spoken supported the
proposed plan, which was created to direct residential growth away
Most people spoke out against the plan, saying the rezoning of farmland would "rob" landowners and farmers of equity and decrease property values - money they were counting on for retirement purposes or if they hit rough financial times.
Some asked for the county to come up with a way to compensate landowners for the devaluation of their property if the rezoning were approved.
Resident Hank Livelsberger said she supported the proposed rezoning as a way to save agricultural land. About 15 others who spoke before her were opposed to the plan.
"I'm the first one who had the guts to stand up and say I'm for it," said Livelsberger, which sparked loud boos from the audience.
The jeers prompted Snook to tell the crowd that such behavior was unacceptable.
"Everyone here has the right to their opinion," Snook said. "We will not allow the constant booing, or we will end the hearing."
Resident Joe Lane said he thought the proposed plan would "work" in the county and asked the commissioners to find a way to compensate landowners if the plan is approved.
"We should just pony it up what it costs," Lane said. "You guys should have the courage to do it. If it's an issue of equity, then we just need to pay for it and preserve our rural county."
The proposed zoning changes are part of the county's Comprehensive Plan, which the commissioners adopted in August 2002.
The commissioners must approve the proposed rezoning before any changes can take place.
The zoning changes were proposed to preserve the county's agricultural land and industries, to save tax dollars on infrastructure improvements and to protect environmentally sensitive areas and the historic and rural character of the county, according to a county document.
Under the plan, one home would be allowed for every five acres on land with an agricultural zoning. For example, a property owner with 100 acres in an agricultural zone would be able to build 20 dwelling units. Currently, one home per acre is allowed in the agricultural zone.
The plan would allow one home per 20 acres in land zoned environmental conservation and one home per 30 acres in preservation zones. Both designations are new.
"When you lower the density of property ... this is definitely going to affect the market value of these properties," said Richard L. Bowers, a real estate appraiser. "The proposed rezoning will steal the value of farms ..."
Others said the rezoning would be especially harsh on small property owners because it would limit them to building one home on their land or prevent them from any additional building if there already is a home on the property.
Shirley Lewis, of Lewis' Orchards in Cavetown, said she and her husband don't have plans to develop her land, but that she would like the option to do so in an emergency.
"We thought that we would have something to finally help us," Lewis said. "We feel very unfairly treated, and that our rights as Americans in Washington County are being taken away."
Note from a reader...
Here in Oregon that kind of re-zoning happened in 1973 and again in the mid-90's. Land that was once zoned for 1 acre lots is now has an 80 acre minimum lot size but it takes 160 acres to get permission to build a single home.
Closer in to towns, we are often zoned to require too many houses
with a minimum density rule that will often not allow a single house
to be built where 5 might fit. We may be your future!
from another reader...
In most cases, it is worse than that. A good example is that of Dave Nelson, State Sen from Pendleton. Nelson's family left a 600 acre spread to Nelson and his sister. His sister married and lived elsewhere. Dave got the house on the 600 acre ranch. his sister divorced and wanted to move back and build another house on the 600 acre spread. They couldn't.
Litigation ensued to decide who should get the house. Nelson slipped a bill into the legislative hopper to allow another house on this specific piece of property.
The enviro-wacos went nuts because it would add one more piece of land to be covered by a home. The remainder went nuts because his bill would cover only his situation and do nothing to help others in similar circumstances.
The bill died in committee.
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