Still a half-baked condemnation CARROLL COUNTY

December 09, 1992

Because the power of eminent domain -- government's right to condemn and take private property -- is such a powerful tool, it should be used only to further a public purpose.

No public purpose was articulated in the case of Carroll County's aiding Aaron Green to obtain a 750-square-foot parcel from the ++ High Ridge Homeowners' Association so he could extend a road. The commissioners didn't mention one when they voted 2-to-1 to proceed with the condemnation; their stated rationale was simply that they were helping a farmer who needed access to develop his land. Neither was the case for a public purpose made during a court hearing on the matter last week.

Now county officials are arguing -- in what appears an afterthought -- that the condemnation and the road extension will serve the public interest by allowing Mr. Green to cluster his proposed lots around existing development. Although Mr. Green's property is located in an agriculture zone, he can develop a maximum of 21 lots under the present zoning standards. If Mr. Green is unable to extend High Ridge Drive, he proposes to use an extension of Nottingham Road to gain access to 14 of the lots. That road would cross farmland and a stream. County officials contend that this alternative would result in the destruction of more agricultural land than would the simple extension of High Ridge Drive.

In their deliberations, the commissioners solely considered the condemnation issue from a perspective of expediency -- helping Mr. Green get more direct access to his property. The commissioners never discussed the impact this development would have on the county's planning goals of protecting farmland and open space.

Is the county obligated to use its powers of condemnation to solve access problems and allow Mr. Green to maximize development on his property? Does this set a precedent for development of agricultural lands? Whenever an access problem arises will the county be called on to use its powers of condemnation to ensure that land owners are able to develop to the maximum allowable? Will taxpayer funds be used to pay for these condemnations?

The county's intention to proceed with this suit is fraught with problems. Its full implications have not been thought out.

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