County Comment: Urban Rezoning Process Begins

County Comment
Urban Rezoning Process Begins
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

With a consensus to form a Citizen's advisory committee, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners moved ahead with plans for rezoning the Urban Growth Areas of the County. The action came in the Commissioners'; regular meeting on January 9th.
Planning and Community Development staff had requested guidance from the Board in beginning the process that will affect growth areas in and around the municipalities of Hagerstown, Hancock, Smithsburg, and Boonsboro. Following discussion of several issues by the Commissioners, the approval to move ahead was given. Only those areas under jurisdiction of the County will be rezoned, and not those areas controlled by the municipalities.
The process will begin with development of a list of potential nominees for the committee, possibly within the next few weeks, and the entire process could take a year or more to complete.
A similar committee was formed following the rezoning of the rural areas in 2005. Although public meetings were held prior to any rezoning actions, some citizens expressed concerns after the process was complete, and a committee to gather input on equity issues performed a study and reported findings to then Commissioners.
This time, the committee is being formed at the outset of the process, as a facilitation measure, and to ensure the process stays on track. Public meetings will be held to gather input from residents of the areas to be rezoned.
New zoning districts could be created, old zoning districts could be eliminated and others could see change.
Planning Director Mike Thompson says that the process is key to controlling growth. Washington County could see mixed-use communities, where shopping and office areas are integrated with housing, so that people can live where they work.
The process has changed. Thompson says. Prior to 2006, planners could designate growth areas based on economic and other factors. With strict state and federal mandated water and sewer allocation the availability of resources becomes a major factor in growth.
"We're being given a certain amount of waste water discharge criteria and building another treatment plant doesn't solve that," Thompson says, "So we're working closely with the Department of Water Quality on that issue."
House Bill 1141 was passed in last year's legislative session. The bill sets additional standards for Counties and Municipalities to work together in the planning process.
Thompson days a challenge lies in "Trying to coordinate what the state wants and what the County and Municipalities want."
"The goal is not to have Counties and the Municipalities at odds with each other, it's to find out what we can do to cooperate and complement each other," he says.
Controls on growth in Washington County have spurred increased residential development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania Counties adjacent to Washington County. Thompson said the ability to control one sector does not solve every problem.
He said, "We may not have to deal with schools or water and sewer for those people, but we're still having to deal with the traffic, because they're coming through here, and we're not receiving any financial commitment from them," for roads and infrastructure.
An in-depth interview with Thompson on growth issues and rezoning is being featured this month on local radio stations, and on the Internet. Look for "e-George" in iTunes Local Government podcasts, or link to e-George through the County's webpage, www.washco-md.net. A link to podcasts and blogs on Blogspot.com is available on the webpage.