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Suit Challenges Frederick County Re-Zoning

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FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — The proposed rezoning of nearly 200 Frederick County properties could lead to 17,000 more homes that would increase sprawl, harm the environment and lead to higher taxes to provide services, opponents said Tuesday as they announced a lawsuit.

Janice Wiles, executive director of Friends of Frederick County, said county commissioners are preparing to reconsider zoning for properties rezoned by a previous commission as part of a smart-growth planning effort. Wiles said the changes are not being reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and the suit claims they are being rezoned merely to increase property values.

“You can’t just favor certain property owners over others,” Wiles said, adding the commission must consider the entire county and the impact on the quality of life of all residents. “They don’t have any authority to rezone for the purpose of increasing the value of selective properties.”

The suit claims the rezoning will result in sprawl that will harm the environment and lead to higher taxes to provide services for new homes, which Wiles said are outside of designated growth areas. Friends of Frederick County said it was filing the suit along with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Audubon Society of Central Maryland and 29 county residents.

Terry Cummings, Maryland manager of advocacy for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said “you can’t rezone just because someone wants to increase the value of their property.”

“If it is allowed to proceed it would be precedent setting and there are other counties and municipalities that perhaps would follow suit, so it’s more than just a local situation,” Cummings said.

Frederick County, about 50 miles northwest of Washington, is among the state’s fastest growing. The county’s population rose 19.5 percent between 2000 and 2010 to more than 233,000. The previous county board, controlled by Democrats, approved a countywide comprehensive plan in 2010 that reduced land-development opportunities for some property owners by applying more restrictive zoning. Critics called it downzoning.

In November 2010, voters elected an all-Republican board of county commissioners. Current President Blaine Young promised during his election campaign that those whose properties were rezoned for less growth could apply for restoration of the previous zoning designation. That led to just under 200 requests. Those requests, if approved, have a residential development potential of 17,661 homes, according to an analysis by county planners.

Young said the county’s attorney has advised that the process is legal, adding that the affected property owners feel they didn’t have a fair opportunity to present their case when their zoning was originally changed.

“There are people in this county that feel they were unjustly treated” by the previous board and lost property rights “with the stroke of a pen,” Young said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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