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County Comment

by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

In its regular meeting on October 26th, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners extended the moratorium on new construction of subdivisions greater than 5 lots outside the Urban Growth Area for up to 90 days, to allow time for further discussion of policies that would compensate rural landowners for equity losses as the result of downzoning.
Planning and Community Development Director Mike Thompson and Chief Senior Planner Steve Goodrich had requested final decisions on 37 Individual Formal Requests for changes in zoning or inclusion within Growth Areas and the proposed amendments to the text of various zoning Districts. The Board held a series of workshops and two additional public hearings on the 37 individual rural rezoning requests and the proposed text changes. This meeting reviewed written input from property owners as well as statements given during the Public Hearing held on October 18th, and made a decision on that moratorium, which was set to expire on October 28th.
In reviewing public comment, the Board gave support to allowing temporary agricultural buildings on existing farms in areas rezoned to Preservation or Conservation, discussed setbacks in Industrial-Mining zones, with consensus of 200-foot setbacks in Residential and Rural Village areas, considered requests for several properties along Mason-Dixon Road for inclusion in the Urban Growth Area, and reversed its previous decisions on owner requests for properties on Falling Run Road and Mount Aetna Road, in both cases siding with the property owner.
The Rural Zoning Task Force and Planning Commission, Rural Land Use, recommendations had been discussed by the Board last summer. The Task Force was appointed in response to citizen concerns regarding proposed zoning changes that were proposed to implement recommended density reductions and land use limitations contained in the adopted Comprehensive Plan.
Development density had been proposed that would allow one dwelling for every five acres of land in the Agricultural (Rural) Zoning District, one per 20 acres in the Environmental Conservation (EC) District and one per 30 acres in the Preservation (P) District. In August an amended plan allowed exemption of 3 lots on parcels less than 50 acres, and additional exempted lots per 50 acre increments, up to a total of 5 lots. Intent of the rezoning is to limit residential development in those areas, which do not have municipal water and sewer systems, and to preserve agricultural, historic and environmentally sensitive lands.
Commissioners Bill Wivell and Jim Kercheval presented plans for compensation to landowners for loss of equity, Wivell favoring a buyback of densities, and Kercheval proposing using Transfer of Development Rights to create funds to purchase easements. Commissioners’ President Greg Snook said that further time would be needed to discuss equity options, and requested a motion to extend the large development moratorium for up to ninety days, effective this date, until such time as a plan for land preservation and compensation for landowners can be developed.
The motion passed by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner John Munson voting “no.”

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