Encroachment at Liberty Reservoir

September 21, 1991

After 13 years of filings, pleadings, hearings, denials, court appeals, refilings, etc., a five-acre chunk of Liberty Reservoir's "conservation area" -- where little or no development is supposed to occur -- has been rezoned for industrial use in Carroll County. That could bode ill for the entire Baltimore region.

The rezoning has been relentlessly pursued by the landowner, who also owns a heavy equipment and trailer business across Westminster Pike (Route 140) in Finksburg. He ran into strong opposition from Carroll's planning staff, the county Planning and Zoning Commission, its Water Resources Bureau and Health Department, Baltimore's planning department, and the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments. All were concerned about polluting the reservoir, which supplies "city water" for western Baltimore and Baltimore County and Howard County.

Yet the three Carroll County Commissioners granted the rezoning unanimously, reversing earlier rulings and ignoring expert advice. "We felt there was adequate buffer and it would not hurt the reservoir to have a business there," said Commission President Donald I. Dell. "Environmentalists shouldn't have any concerns," said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy. Commissioner Julia Gouge acknowledged that the decision might, indeed, go against the 1984 Reservoir Watershed Protection Agreement. That document, reaffirmed in 1990, says that Baltimore and Carroll counties agree not to intensify conservation or agriculture uses for land adjoining the three Baltimore City-owned reservoirs within their bounds.

Considerable expertise was aligned against this Carroll County vote. All parties concur more or less that in isolation, the five particular acres near the Patapsco River "above" Liberty Reservoir won't make a difference -- probably. But the cumulative effects of other small rezonings that could cite this one as a precedent may eventually prove serious, opponents point out. They're right. Catherine Rappe, Carroll's Bureau of Water Resources chief, adds another perspective: "That's how the Chesapeake Bay and the reservoirs got in the shape they're in today." She's right.

Carroll County needs revenue and jobs generated by industrial land to offset its expensive bedroom boom. Business pressures are particularly strong in the Route 140 corridor, where county government is exploring public sewer and water possibilities -- part of the inevitable price of Interstate 795 opening the area to Baltimore-driven growth. But as their growth problems multiply, Carroll's officials need to be increasingly mindful of their neighbors who rely on that reservoir. This rezoning raises a flag: the neighbors need to pay more attention to developments in Carroll, too.

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