WESTMINSTER — Mount Airy farmer C. William Knill was so fighting mad about legislation that would give the state power to dictate zoning that he couldn't help but mention the war.
"We're fighting in Saudi Arabia for land someone took with a gun. Now, here, we're having to fight for land being taken away with a pencil," he said.
Farmers are rallying to oppose a bill based on the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region, also known as the 2020 report.
"If there's ever a time for all of us to write a letter to Annapolis, even if you've never done it before, believe me, this is the time," said Norman Astle, assistant director for public affairsof the Maryland Farm Bureau.
The 2020 report is a threat to agriculture, he told 55 members of the Carroll County Farm Bureau who attended a meeting Wednesday to learn more about the measure. The report has been written into a bill, which was introduced in the House and Senate.
The legislation, if enacted, would dictate that growth be clustered around municipalities and that residential development in agriculture zones be limited to one home per 20 acres. Carroll County'smaster plan already includes these initiatives.
Farmers say that their property values would decrease and that they no longer would have the right to decide what to do with their land if the bill passes.The bill would outlaw subdivision in agricultural zones currently allowed under county zoning.
The 2020 report, prepared by a panel headed by former Representative Michael D. Barnes of Montgomery County,was meant to strike a balance between growth and environmental needs. The report says that development should be concentrated in suitable areas and that sensitive areas, including flood plains, steep slopes and critical habitats, should be protected.
Maryland can accommodate projected population increases until 2020, but changes are needed to manage growth after that, the report says.
Between 1985 and 1990, 70 percent of the land developed was low-density residential development on lots ranging from one-half acre to 5 acres, which created "sprawl," the report says.
Carroll Planning Director Edmund R. "Ned" Cueman said the county supports the "vision" of the plan but notthe way it would be implemented. The bill would take land-use decisions away from counties and municipalities and give them to the state.
The state would be "like a high sheriff talking to his deputies,"he said.
Three Carroll legislators will vote on the bill in committee, the first stage of passage for the measure. Two oppose the bill; another said he hasn't decided yet.
Delegates Donald B. Elliott,R-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, and Lawrence LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, serve on the House Environmental Matters Committee. Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, is on the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Elliott and Haines said they oppose thebill because it would give the state control over zoning decisions.
"It is infringing on the property rights of individuals," Elliott said."It hurts the farmers more than anyone else."
Haines said, "It's Big Brother regulating local government."
LaMotte said he has not decided how he will vote.
The committees will sponsor hearingson the bill the last week of this month.
Homebuilders oppose the bill, said Tom Ballentine, assistant director for government affairs of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. The bill would devalue land in rural areas and raise the price of parcels in designated growth areas, he said.
Environmentalists favor the bill, said Deanna D. Hofmann, a naturalist at Piney Run Park. The Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a statewide coalition that includes the Sierra Club,supports the bill because it will help reduce pollution in the bay.