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Washington County Listening Sessions, January 9, 2018

What We Heard in Response

Regionalism  ♦ Concerns Over Previous Mandates ♦ Concern over Growth Tier Map Requirements ♦ Economic Development ♦ Environment  ♦ Community ♦ Funding ♦ Neighboring Jurisdictions ♦ State Agencies ♦ General

The comments below represent the statements or points of view of one or more individuals who participated in the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) “A Better Maryland” Development Plan Listening Sessions. These comments do not represent any official position or policy of MDP or any other State agency, nor do they represent any official position or policy of any local jurisdiction or local planning agency.


Obtaining potable water withdrawal appropriation from the Potomac River is a long-term concern for the City of Hagerstown and Washington County.  This issue will need to be investigated in the County’s Water Resource Element.  But, it also raises a larger regional issue, since the Potomac River is the water source for multiple states and is subject to interstate collaboration/ coordination through the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (an advisory, non-regulatory interstate compact agency of the Potomac basin states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia)

Given its proximity, the County is competing with PA, WV and VA for development prospects

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Concerns Over Previous Mandates

Local planning staff expressed concern whether there was a need to incorporate PlanMaryland’s planning areas into the preparation of local comprehensive plans currently underway

There is concern that State law treats county and municipal comprehensive plans differently and that counties do not have to prepare plans to the level of detail that municipalities do, particularly in preparing Municipal Growth Elements and designation of growth areas

The 5-year development restriction on newly annexed property that is rezoned by the municipality to a higher density than the county needs to be addressed.  It doesn’t make sense to penalize the municipality when the State’s smart growth principles encourage us to concentrate development in areas served by water/sewer service

Washington County is currently working to update our Forest Conservation Regulations, which is also difficult to match State requirements with local priorities

The State Development Plan should recognize that Maryland’s counties and municipalities are planning better today than they ever have.  It may be time to look at planning-related laws to see if they need to be amended or repealed

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Concern over Growth Tier Map Requirements

Washington County has not adopted a Tier Map.  When the Septics Laws (SB236) was introduced, Washington County’s BOCC looked at what MDP’s mapping guidance recommended for Growth Tiers and decided it could not support a Tier Map like that.  Several years ago, the County staff prepared a draft Tier Map, but, MDP indicated it did not comply with the Septic Law’s mapping requirements because County’s comprehensive plan and zoning policy statements conflicted what was proposed on the Tier Map

Washington County will be revisiting the Growth Tier Map issued during the upcoming comprehensive plan update.  We want to comply with the Septics Law, but want to also address local priorities

The Septic Bill has created problems for Washington County’s land preservation programs. The values of easement appraisals have dropped dramatically.  Additionally, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation will only pay 75% of the fair market value.  We will provide MDP the hard data that shows the before and after effect of SB236 on easement appraisals

Time and paperwork to prepare settlement documents for land preservation easements is too lengthy and cumbersome.  The appraisal reports are much lengthier and costlier than prior to the Septic Law

Local farmers that have historically farmed in Maryland are now farming in Pennsylvania and West Virginia because Maryland over regulates farming, such as applying manure to fields

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Economic Development

The Western Maryland Rail Trail and the C & O Tow Path are important economic development and recreational resources for the County

The State Development Plan should address how to promote good land use planning and economic development

The widening of I-81 is a critical issue that needs to be addressed, from an economic development and a traffic congestion/safety perspective

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Washington County is very proud of its land preservation program; saving a significant portion of the county’s agricultural and natural resource lands.  The County has committed significant resources toward its agricultural land preservation program, with more property owners interested in participating than there is money available to purchase easements

Washington County has a land preservation goal of 50,000 acres out of a total of 300,000 acres in the County.  At this point, the County has about 31,000 acres preserved with around $80 million to date received from all sources and invested into programs

Washington County’s land preservation program is more popular with local farmers and the residents in rural areas, and probably less popular with some local government officials

Washington County has seen a fourfold return in the local economy for every dollar spent in land preservation

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There are blighted, empty storefronts in several of communities that can use state assistance

The factors that affect a high quality of life in Washington County are the schools and the economy/jobs

Washington County’s local community groups and organizations, like the volunteer fire departments and churches, have the most impact in promoting positive change.  Local governments are also important in making positive change

There needs to be balance of promoting growth in the towns and cities and supporting the quality of life in rural areas

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Upgrading sewers is extremely costly, but it does provide significant economic development opportunities.  Local governments need the continued support from the State to make these improvements

Community facilities are under staffed and in need of equipment, particularly police and fire staffing/services.  The cost of training volunteer fireman is becoming cost prohibitive, forcing communities to hire EMS and fire professionals

The State Development Plan should also address protection of the environment and public health and safety concerns

The State Development Plan should address funding and regulations to help get infrastructure built

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Neighboring Jurisdictions


Maryland’s tax structure is a problem with its double taxation on people living in municipalities

Makes it difficult to attract developers to the city.  Virginia has separate taxing authority for its cities versus its counties.  Hagerstown is interested in learning how tax sharing arrangements that exist between a county and its municipalities in other parts of the state

It would be beneficial if taxes could be separated to what services are used in the city by its residents and outsiders versus what services are used in the county alone.  There is nothing noticeable being done in the city with county tax dollars.  Even though there is currently some reduction of county taxes for tax payers in the city – it is still not equitable

The City of Hagerstown has all the low-income housing in the county, 20% of all housing units in the city. The concentration of poverty in the city makes it very difficult to provide municipal services without the help from the county to offset the financial burden

There is a mismatch between what Hagerstown is planning to serve with public water, and what Washington County has indicated would be in their growth area

There is a need for quick resolution of transportation concerns and the requirements associated with construction projects

Washington County’s merchants are competing with West Virginia retailers for alcohol sales due to Maryland’s higher sales tax versus West Virginia.  This is hurting retailers in Maryland

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State Agencies

State agencies that administer grant programs need to have a better understanding of the issues facing local governments and the people that potentially could benefit from these grants

The State Development Plan should address collaboration.  The Governor’s cabinet is working to improve state agency communication/collaboration.  Sharing of information, such as floodplain maps as an example

Hagerstown noted that it is getting conflicting messages from the state agencies.  The County Health Department (and MDE) are telling us that Hagerstown needs to serve rural areas with public water because of the karst geology.  But, state planning says the city is not supposed to serve rural areas because it’s low density residential.  Additionally, MDE is warning the city about over commitment on public water supply, given we may not have enough water available for the city and the immediate surrounding areas

There is a concern that state agencies may be too siloed, and there appears to be no communication among state agencies when conflict policies may exist and there is uncertainty what the priorities may be.  The State Plan should put forward the goals and mandates together in one voice

There is also a need to coordinate issues with the federal agencies, since there as so many federal facilities in the area

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We appreciate the opportunity to have our local issues heard through these listening sessions

The unique local needs of our communities should be acknowledged in the preparation of in the State Development Plan

The opioid drug problem is a safety concern even in rural areas like Washington County

Washington County’s Assets: Natural resources – for bird watching, fishing & hiking; historic preservation/heritage areas; cultural amenities; and its beautiful landscapes. The greatest strengths of Washington County are: the work ethic of its people; the natural areas; its historic resources like the C & O Canal and the Antietam Battlefield; and the county’s rich history

Washington County’s Challenges: Preserving historic sites; providing safe and affordable housing; addressing drug and crime problems; preserving “dark skies;” and addressing the “hodge-podge” of development (too many zoning exceptions?).  The most pressing issues facing the County are: Jobs and paying a living wage; economic development; competition with other states (Pennsylvania to the north & West Virginia to the south) in the areas of taxes; 50% the county’s work force is leaving the county for jobs outside the county [Mack Truck & Volvo 60% live outside of Washington County]; PA does not tax retirement income, such as pensions; people are leaving Washington County and moving to Pennsylvania; and politics

Both Hagerstown and Washington County planning staffs indicated their appreciation for MDP’s regional planner technical assistance and encouraged its continued support

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