Washington County residents applauded the county board of commissioners Tuesday morning as they voted unanimously against rezoning a property near Hagerstown from residential to business use.
After listening to almost a dozen people testify against the rezoning of the property at 19817 Beaver Creek Road, the county commissioners made their decision immediately, which surprised some residents.
“I never expected (the commissioners) to vote” on Tuesday, Bette Jo Shifler, who lives near the property, told The Herald-Mail in an interview. “I’m very glad because … we certainly don’t want that kind of development out there.”
It also was somewhat surprising since county Planning Commission members David Kline, Jeff Semler and B.J. Goetz voted in March to recommend that the commissioners rezone the property. They noted that multifamily dwellings would be problematic, because of the lack of water and sewer service. And they said some commercial enterprises are able to operate with wells and septic systems.
Shifler had started a petition on Facebook in April that garnered over 200 signatures objecting to the rezoning of the 130-acre site, which is east of the Interstate 70 interchange with U.S. 40.
“I’m just glad that the neighborhood could come together and try to preserve our (way of life),” she added. “We would like to preserve the farmland.”
How did we get here?
The property was designated residential multifamily in 2012.
However, after learning that Hagerstown does not plan to extend water service there, and the county, which provides sewer services, has no plans to extend wastewater lines there, developers looked to commercial uses that could operate using well water and septic systems.
Residents and businesses in the area currently rely on wells and septic systems.
According to online deed records, the property is owned by Agrimar Co. Establishment of Hagerstown. The rezoning application was filed by a company named 19817 Beaver Creek LLC, which has an address in Lakewood, N.J.
William Wantz, an attorney for the applicant, has said previously that lack of utilities is one reason to change the zoning from residential multifamily, which envisions developments such as townhouses and apartments, to highway interchange, which allows for a range of uses.
“If we were to develop the property under the (residential multifamily, otherwise known as RM) classification with the density contemplated in the RM zoning section, we would undoubtedly overburden the ground water resources with hundreds of individual wells,” Wantz said during the public hearing Tuesday.
He said that the original zoning of the property was a mistake and asked the commissioners to vote to change it to a highway interchange classification.
Logical and appropriate?
Wantz added that the highway interchange zoning classification is logical and appropriate for the site. However, most of the residents present for the hearing disagreed.
Many residents said they were concerned about traffic, the type of business that would be put in place at the property, and the impact it would have over the water quality in the area.
Shifler told the commissioners during her testimony that after speaking with the fire marshal’s office, a water tower or tank would have to be added for either zoning classification. That would use more water and put residents’ wells at risk.
“How much water would be wasted would depend on the capacity of the well and the size of the development,” Shifler said.
The applicants representatives — which included Wantz, Joshua Sewald, principal of Dynamic Engineering Consultants, and Mike Nalepa, traffic engineer with Street Traffic Studies LTD — did not have an answer as to what could be built if the rezoning were approved.
“Warehouses are one of several uses that might be established. There are others,” Wantz told members of the Washington County Planning Commission during a meeting earlier this year.
Wantz also said previously that the property fronts Beaver Creek Road, so it could accommodate updates to handle additional traffic.
What’s the plan?
Other residents who testified also shared their fears about adding another warehouse, citing several other developments already underway in the county.
Commissioner Randy Wagner asked the representatives why the owner bought the property in April, seemingly expecting that they could get the zoning changed.
Commissioner Wayne Keefer added that if there was a mistake in zoning, it might have been that it was over-zoned, since water and sewer can’t supply water to high-density housing.
“I think the mistake they’re seeking (to fix) may be in the opposite direction,” Keefer said during the hearing.
The county board of commissioners immediately took a vote after the hearing to deny the rezoning.