It's a bureaucratic buzzword that induces yawns from all but the most ardent public servants, yet "zoning" figured heavily into several of the county commissioners' most important decisions and actions lastyear.
In one of their most significant votes, the commissioners denied a petition requesting the rezoning of a 360-acre farm off Route97 in South Carroll from agriculture to conservation and residential.
The rezoning could have allowed development of a 108-luxury home subdivision with a golf course and could have provided a basis for future similar development approvals in the region.
Instead, the commissioners assigned the planning office to perform a comprehensive development study to determine the best future land use for the region bounded by routes 26 and 97 and the Howard and Frederick county borders, excluding Mount Airy. The southwest Carroll area, where agriculture gradually has been giving way to growth, has come under development pressures because of its proximity to Washington and Baltimore.
Most land outside Carroll's eight municipalities is zoned agriculture. But Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he envisions residential development as perhaps the most appropriate future land use in southwest Carroll. Similar studies of other unincorporated areas couldbe ordered.
The following issues also concerned zoning plans and regulations, which provide the basis for the county's growth:
* Ina smaller rezoning case that had significance -- especially symbolically -- the commissioners voted to rezone 5 acres from conservation to industrial near the Liberty Reservoir. The request had been denied previously -- and upheld in court -- because of concern for water quality and the county's participation in a multi-jurisdictional reservoir pact.
* Dell came under fire for ordering that zoning violationenforcement practices be relaxed. The order compelled zoning inspectors to respond only to complaints or glaringly obvious health and safety threats. The county rescinded the order after being warned by theCarroll state's attorney that the policy change could be illegal if not accompanied by zoning amendments.
* Planners began studying how zoning regulations could be changed to encourage production of moreaffordable housing and promote developments in the style of rural "villages," rather than sprawling residential subdivisions. To achieve those goals, zoning laws would have to be more flexible, the clustering of homes permitted and housing densities increased in some areas.
* After six years of committee study, changes are being made to clarify and improve the 26-year-old zoning ordinance.