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Comp plan may not be finished until 2007

Brendan Weeks

(10/9)  For the past 18 months the planning and zoning committee has been toiling with the town's new comprehensive plan, and could still take until February of next year to wrap up.

The resignation of Town Planner Michael Lucas in December 2005 further stalled progress on producing a draft plan.

Work on the comprehensive plan was revived in April 2006 with the hiring of planning consultant Christopher Jakubiak of Jakubiak and Associates, Inc. At that time, the town also decided to throw out the draft they had been working on and start fresh. "Mr. Jakubiak has got the comp plan back on schedule," Mayor James E. Hoover told The Dispatch.

Delays and little public involvement

The town's first comprehensive plan was approved in 1974. The current plan was adopted in 1998.

State law requires that a town's comprehensive plan be updated every five years. While the town does not incur any specific penalties for a delayed comp plan final draft, it can make getting approval from the state on certain matters difficult. "It's really hard to get approval from the state about things concerning the environment," said Commissioner Glenn Blanchard.

Hoover, while frustrated with the delay, noted this as a common problem among towns, stating "I've never known of one to be done on time."

"Everybody wants to make sure it's done right," Blanchard stated, "It has a very powerful impact on the town as far as the direction of its development."

Hoover is troubled by the lack of citizen involvement in the process of drafting the plan, but not surprised. "It's a common thing in every town. There are a few potential property owners of commercial property that come out to listen, but input is very low," he recently said.

Potential revenues from Civil War designation

The updated comprehensive plan calls for the town to become a certified "Heart of the Civil War" area. "To a great extent we're trying to capitalize on our history as far as the Civil War," stated Blanchard. "This will help to publicize the fact that the town of Emmitsburg was important during the Civil War and will hopefully draw more tourism."

Town population may nearly double

One of the many major topics included in the comp plan is potential growth of the community. As of July 2005, the population of the town was estimated to be 2,369 people. Hoover said that the new draft of the plan estimates a population growth of up to 5,500 people over the next 20 years, almost doubling the town's population.

Hoover is pleased with the prospect of three percent yearly growth of the town, noting, "This is a very manageable, very reasonable concept that you're going to get three percent growth."

Rising housing costs

The plan also discusses the cost of housing in the community. Hoover estimates that the average cost of housing in Emmitsburg is around $225,000. "Frederick County in general, whether you live in the county or in a municipality, it has become more difficult to find moderately priced housing," the mayor said.

Don Briggs, a local realtor for over 10 years, has been trying to attend comprehensive plan meetings. He sees the rising cost of housing as an emerging problem in the community. "I see a lot of elderly people moving out because they have no place to go," Briggs told The Dispatch. "I see a lot of young people who cannot afford to live here who are moving up to Pennsylvania." He believes that the style of homes being built in Emmitsburg is causing inflation of housing costs.

Opportunity for rezoning zoning requests

The town will be tackling the tougher issue of zoning in upcoming meetings. "Zoning is always the toughest because you really could change a property owners' rights," Hoover said. According to the mayor, the best time for citizens to request rezoning is during the redrafting of the comprehensive plan.

During the review process, anybody can request rezoning for any piece of property, Hoover pointed out. Otherwise, a request for rezoning must be presented to the board with proof of either a significant change in the community, or that there has been a mistake in the plan.

Ordinances needed this time

Dianne Walbrecker, who served as a town commissioner and was liaison to the planning commission in 2004, believes that the previous plan was flawed in that it was not tied to any ordinances.

"Once it was done in '98 they never changed the ordinances," Walbrecker stated. "To make that vision a reality you have to change your town ordinances."

Planning commission member Larry Little believes that while ordinances should be re-examined, there should always be room for the town to change. "We need to look at each ordinance and see how they impact the comp plan," Little said, "but the comp plan should never be hard and fast."

The town hopes to have a draft of the updated plan finished by February of next year. Once completed, the draft will be submitted to the commissioners who will review the plan and make their suggestions.

The next workshop on the comprehensive plan will be Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the town meeting room.

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