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Middletown mulls building, zoning duties

By Alex Bridges

MIDDLETOWN -- The town will continue to oversee building and zoning issues but in the future officials plan to hand over those duties to Frederick County.

Town Council met last week to discuss whether Middletown should keep some, all or none of the building and zoning inspections, including fire, under its roof.

The town had planned to turn these duties over to Frederick County Planning and Zoning Department as of July 1, Mayor Charles H. Harbaugh IV told council. However, the county asked the town to continue to oversee zoning, building and fire permits until council decides what duties it wants to handle.

Harbaugh has been corresponding with County Administrator John R. Riley Jr. about the matter.

Fred Wharton works as a town building official but also has certification as a fire official and as a building inspector. Wharton has retired from inspections and issuing building permits, but still serves as zoning administrator for the town, Harbaugh explained. Wharton handles permits and takes care of tall grass or trees that may violate zoning regulations.

Harbaugh noted that Wharton has since returned to his role as building official to sign off on permits and plans. But said that Wharton has expressed a desire to no longer handle the duties of an inspector. Wharton will serve the town on an on-call basis until council decides the next step.

Harbaugh recommended that council consider handing over building inspections and zoning administration to the county, but have the town continue to oversee fire inspections by having a certified person available on an on-call basis.

A fire official would inspect extinguishers at restaurants, the elevator at the nearby Super 8 Motel, and would issue fireworks permits, Harbaugh explained.

The mayor advised that if the town wanted to keep building, zoning and fire inspections, it likely would have to hire more than one person. Harbaugh pointed out that finding someone qualified in all three fields may prove difficult.

"You would have to have three employees unless it's a special guy like Fred who has the history in all those departments," Harbaugh said.

Council agreed to look for people willing to work for the town, on a part-time, as-needed basis, to cover permitting and building inspections.

But should the town hand over the building and zoning duties to the county, it could lose future revenue from the permits an official would issue. Construction remains stagnant. However, Councilwoman Carole Snyder pointed out that the town has signed off on a project with nearly 30 homes.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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