Commissioners Keep Rezoning Ruling Secret

March 31, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

The County Commissioners were supposed to make a decision on Carroll's largest-ever rezoning case during a public meeting last week.

They did indeed make their decision -- only it was made in between staff meetings two days before the now-canceled public session was supposed to take place and, on the advice of the county attorney, it won'tbe made public until Wednesday morning.

"I don't know what the rationale was for ever having it on the public agenda," County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. said inan interview last week. "The commissioners are acting in a quasi-judicial function here, and my advice to them was to close the meeting about the case."

Carroll County Rezoning Case No. 172 -- the 360-acre Rash farm near Eldersburg -- could pave the way for an 18-hole golf course ringed with 108 homes priced at $300,000 and up each. More likely, sources say, it could stand to reaffirm the county Master Plan, which calls for the parcel to remain in agriculture use.

Whatever the decision is, the public will not necessarily know how the commissioners reached their conclusions, because Thompson successfully urged them to cancel the advertised 1:45 p.m. Thursday open session.

The closing of the meeting apparently isn't a violation of the state's open meetings law, nor is it a problem to the Columbia-based Woodfield Partnership, developers of the Rash property.

"I agree that a closing is correct," said J. Brooks Leahy, Woodfield's Westminster attorney. "It seems to me that normally a zoning decision is a written decision, a closed decision."

Neither he nor his clients have received word of the decision, which, according to Commissioner PresidentDonald I. Dell, was made Tuesday afternoon. Thompson, when asked Thursday about the status of the commissioners' decision, would not comment.

The rezoning case pits Woodfield and Eldersburg farmers Claude R., Edwin E. and Glen I. Rash against the county and state planningoffices.

The rezoning is opposed by planners, who fear any alteration to the county's Master Plan could end up eroding Carroll's agricultural community.

What the commissioners had to decide was whether a mistake was made in the zoning ordinance and if a change in the neighborhood surrounding the Rash farm has taken place since the 1978 update of the county's plan.

If the development was approved, it could generate as much as $409,300 a year in property and other tax revenue, as well as $540,000 in impact fees.

"Probably nobody is going to be happy with this decision," Dell said Thursday afternoon. "Itwasn't an easy decision to make."

Dell, who campaigned last fall on the slogan "Keep It Country," is a dairy farmer sympathetic to private property rights but against runaway development.

CommissionerVice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr. also would not reveal the decisionon the case. He did say, though, that he is not always comfortable closing government proceedings to the public.

"I'm a champion of the free flow of information," he said. "I don't want to put up barriers for the public."

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge could not be reached for comment.

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