Changes to town zoning could create official Downtown District

by Geoff Fox

A resolution to amend Hancock’s zoning ordinance would create and define a Downtown District, encouraging the economic development of the historic downtown for retail, hospitality, services and tourism.

The geographic boundaries of the proposed district would be between Church Street and the 522 Bridge over Main Street. It would also include parcels southward to the Potomac River and parcels northward along Pennsylvania Avenue, terminating at the parcels at the High Street intersection.

Town Manager Joe Gilbert said all businesses and “everything

in there now” would be grandfathered into the zoned district.

“There is no amendment to any taxes. There are no penalties. There’s no registration fees,” Gilbert said. “All [the resolution] does is create a new zone.”

Town officials had a first reading of Resolution 2020-01 at their January meeting. It won’t go into effect until council members vote on its fate after a second reading.

The town’s current zoning ordinance refers to the “town center” of Hancock from Food Lion and all of East and West Main Street.

Gilbert said there is no historic downtown retail, hospitality district designated other than “town center” and the resolution is to create a downtown zone allowing for the continuing historic purpose of the district.

It would contain the storefront, sidewalk, walking part of Hancock.

Changes would impose some rules for future businesses,

houses of worship, retail, hospitality, or retail businesses.

As the town moves forward with becoming a Sustainable Community and seeking out Main Street Maryland’s Main Street designation, “we want to be able to apply for grants and such, and support our Main Street revitalization economic development,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said he’d be working with the town attorney to make sure the “grandfather clauses” to accommodate existing businesses and structures are in place before the resolution is adopted.

Gilbert said the town will hold public question and answer meeting and public forums about the creation of the district.

Gilbert asked town officials take up a vote during the February town meeting after the public meetings.

The amended zoning ordinance proposes slight changes to yard depths to all uses and structures in the downtown


Originally, the town center yard depths were 15 feet for front yard, 8 feet for side, 20 feet for rear, 75 feet lot width, and building height of three stories.

Under the new proposal, front yards would have a depth of zero feet except when a building was detached. Free-standing buildings would have a front yard depth of 15 feet.

Gilbert said any new building would have to match the existing buildings and come up to the sidewalk when attached.

Proposed changes would require a rear yard depth of 40 feet

unless that yard abuts to a street, park, trail, or bike path, and which provides public access, it then has a zero feet depth.

New buildings in the new district could be four stories high instead of three.

This would allow for multiuse buildings with retail or food service on the first floor to have the floors above for use as a hotel, apartments, condos, or bed and breakfast space.

In the current zoning ordinance, only junkyards are specifically prohibited as a business type in the “town cente


Under the new downtown district, more business types would be prohibited: warehouses, wholesalers, outdoor theaters, storage units, vehicle storage lots, commercial animal husbandry, and industrial manufacturing facility or factories. Auto salvage yards were added to the junkyard definition.

There are a number of buildings within the downtown district that are residential use.

These buildings, along with any existing business and building will be grandfathered into the downtown district.

A number of permitted uses for businesses coming to Hancock were added. The proposed list includes the following new addition: hostels, taverns/pubs/bars, inn/lodge, brewery/distillery/cidery open to the public, arcade, coffee or tea shop, café or deli, confectionary, and bakery.

Gilbert noted any existing business currently operating under the original zoning would not be removed.

“No one’s going to go down to the downtown district and try to throw out any existing business,” Gilbert said. “If they’re now, they’re there safely in the future.”

A public forum on the proposed changes had not been scheduled at press time. A copy of Resolution 2020-01, the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance, is available for review at Town Hall.