Washington County Land Use Meeting Highlights Public Outreach Challenges

MACo believes that one important component in the debate or implementation of new land use or environmental policies is public outreach and education.  Public education and outreach can be done by the State, local governments, or advocacy groups.  Unless a new policy is explained to the public in advance of its implementation, a strong public backlash can occur.  The backlash can be based on accurate or inaccurate information, but once the backlash occurs, the chance to proactively educate the public is lost and instead the policy implementor must largely focus on “damage control.”

However, as an August 21 Hagerstown Herald Mail article highlights, education and outreach efforts can be challenging, even when properly undertaken.  The article discusses an informational meeting held by Washington County to a proposed change in land use regulations for areas around four towns.  Citizens living in the areas turned out to oppose the measure and express concern.

Opposition to a Washington County proposal to change land-use regulations around four towns including Hancock showed no signs of abating Wednesday night when about 65 people turned out for an informational meeting —  including one resident who brought a petition with 66 signatures of people against the plan.

Residents who would be affected by the land-use changes said they are afraid of being forced to hook up to public water and sewer service, and that they will be forced to pay town taxes if the regulations are passed.  …

Citizen concerns ranged from having to pay town taxes, being forced to hook up to town water and sewer, water capacity, and property rights.

Land-use changes are being proposed for those areas, because county officials anticipate they will see growth in the future.  …

Generally, the proposed laws are intended to channel growth into the affected districts, [county planner Jill] Baker said.  …

As she has done previously, Baker tried to clear up misconceptions about the rezoning.

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