New Developments, Updated Legislative Bills – Hagerstown Work Session Recap

HAGERSTOWN – Tuesday’s work session, 6 February 2024, began with a proclamation by Mayor Tekesha Martinez recognizing February as Black History Month alongside Taj Smith and Pastor Les McIntosh, respectively the President and Vice President of the NAACP of Washington County. This was followed by the presentation of an educational video starring Matt Carr, Water Production Superintendent, and Tyler Puffenberger, Deputy Director of Water & Wastewater. The video involved a tour of the R.C. Wilson water treatment plant and explained the process that distributes water from the Potomac River to Hagerstown residents and businesses.

Police Chief Paul J. Kifer petitioned the Council to convert the department’s part-time Police Records Specialist position to a full-time job, consisting of 40 hours a week rather than 20. While he recognized the financial impact associated with such a request, he also asserted that the increase in staffing hours was necessary in order to keep the records department running smoothly and ensure the safety of both citizens and police officers.

Kathleen Maher, Director of Planning and Code Administrator, presented many Hagerstown development projects alongside Economic Development Manager Doug Reaser. In-progress commercial and industrial district developments include multiple warehouses, as well as the Hagerstown Field House, which received a groundbreaking ceremony in December 2023 and is set to be completed by the end of the year. In-progress and pending residential developments currently consist of multiple townhouses, apartments, and single-family homes.

Following the presentation, Councilmember Kristin Aleshire pointed out that the new warehouses would provide thousands of jobs, thereby necessitating the pending housing developments to accommodate future employees. He also claimed that such developments would take about 10 years to reach completion, and that the county was looking to add a five year delay to that 10-year period. Aleshire concluded with the fact that the city hadn’t built any new schools recently to support the influx of new residents, and he urged the Council to consider how they should “manage” their new economic and residential reality. 

Maher went on to discuss the annexation of Blaine Properties, LP A-2023-02. This proposed annexation will position the property for future purchase when the Medium Density Residential (RMED) zoning can be used in five years. The request for annexation will be placed on the Feb. 27, 2024 regular meeting agenda. If approved, it will become effective in 45 days.

The work session concluded with an overview of various legislative bill updates, presented by City Administrator Scott Nicewarner. One notable piece of legislation included the creation of a Police Recruitment and Retention Workgroup, which would search for ways to recruit and retain police officers in light of recent police reforms that have made the job undesirable for many Maryland citizens. Another bill implemented land use for affordable housing. Nicewarner asserted that there was a “need” for affordable housing, especially in Hagerstown. However, he also acknowledged that this proposal should be amended, as it could create “serious density issues” and APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance)/water/wastewater concerns. Similarly, he recommended amendments to a bill proposing expansion of licensee locations for the sale of cannabis, stating that while the MML did support additional locations, they did not want dispensaries in the downtown area.

Nicewarner recommended that the Council oppose several legislative bills. These included the worker’s compensation for occupational disease presumption long COVID, property tax sales and revisions, and property tax improvements on agricultural land assessments.