The largest individual rezoning request ever in the county has spurred the County Commissioners to order a comprehensive development study of southwest Carroll.
The commissioners have asked the Department of Planning to complete within a year a study that would evaluate the best future land use of the area bounded by Routes 26 and 97 and the Howard and Frederick county lines.
But planners told the board Friday that the task would be nearly impossible to complete within that time, given the agency's current staffing level and workload.
The planners estimated the project would take closer to two years but could be accelerated if three internsare hired this summer and computer mapping equipment is provided.
Last month, the commissioners voted unanimously to deny a petition requesting the rezoning of 360 acres at Eden Mill Road and Route 97 from agriculture to conservation and residential. Approval would have allowed Montgomery County developers to proceed with plans to build anupscale, 108-home subdivision with an 18-hole golf course on the farm owned by Claude, Edwin and Glen Rash.
The commissioners ruled that the proposal is not consistent with the County Master Plan, which targets the site for agricultural and conservation. In the ruling, they said such a large-scale rezoning should not be granted without examining the most appropriate present and future land uses for the surrounding area.
The Carroll Planning and Zoning Commission, staff planners and the commissioners embarked on that mission Friday, discussing goals and logistics for the project.
Planners have completed new comprehensive plans for the county's eight municipalities and Finksburg but have yet to study fully the other unincorporated areas, which are zoned primarily for agriculture and constitute the bulk of Carroll's land. The study of the southwest region -- excluding Mount Airy, which has a revised comprehensive plan -- will be the first in a series of similar evaluations throughout the county, said CommissionerPresident Donald I. Dell.
"Probably more changes have taken placein that area than any others," said Dell. "The Rash rezoning broughtit to a head. We thought it was appropriate to do the study as a result of our decision (on the Rash petition)."
Two of the election districts partially included in the region -- Franklin and Berrett -- were the fastest-growing of Carroll's 14 districts from 1970 to 1990,each tripling in population.
Most of the region is zoned for agriculture, which allows one residential lot per 20 acres, or for conservation, which permits one lot per three acres and is designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas. The Gillis Falls Reservoir, a future water source for South Carroll, is planned for the region.
Dell said he envisions residential development -- and a continued decline in farming -- for the region. From 1960 to 1989, 65 of the 80 dairy farms in the Mount Airy, Berrett and Franklin districts disappeared.
"If we get into too many large-scale changes, we better have a good blueprint for where we're going and how we're going to deal with everything," said Planning Director Edmund R. "Ned" Cueman, referringto the schools, roads and other facilities that must accompany development.
Assistant Planning Director K. Marlene Conaway predicted that many current residents who live on large lots will oppose any proposed increase in housing densities, while others will welcome development as a way to increase property values.
Cueman said the process probably will be similar to the development of a comprehensive planfor neighboring Freedom District in the mid-1970s, in which residents assumed an active role in shaping the community's future.
"It's more palatable to let the community review the plan rather than having the planning commission or commissioners make the decisions" on a case-by-case basis, said Dell. "Then once the decision is made, it's theirs to live with."
Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said she is concerned the county has too little industrial-zoned land and that some rezoned for commercial use was never replaced. She suggested southwest Carroll could be a prime area to increase the industrial district.
The commissioners said their timetable for the project can be met ifcounty employees from other agencies are assigned to help.