Planning panel tangles with council over growth-control proposal

September 28, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

The town of Hampstead took one more step Monday night toward meeting itself in court when the planning and zoning commission rejected the Town Council's recommendation to control growth.

In a letter drafted last month, council members suggested that the commission put a 90-day hold on reviewing plans for new subdivisions, until a town-county committee could review ideas to control growth.

Among other issues, the committee -- which has its first meeting at 7 p.m. today in the town office -- will discuss the crowded schools that have been deemed inadequate by the county planning office.

Most council members have argued that under the adequate facili- ties clause of the town's planning ordinance, town officials are required to deny or defer high-density subdivisions when services are considered inadequate.

Commission Chairman Arthur Moler, who also sits on the Town Council, and Town Attorney Charles O. Fisher Sr. have rejected that argument, saying Hampstead has no control over the schools and therefore cannot use them as a reason to slow development.

After much discussion and heated debate, a moratorium was rejected 3-2 Monday. Mr. Moler, Bill Drummond and Charles Walter voted against the motion, and Chris Nevin and Dennis Wertz supported it.

"It was a dead issue," said Mr. Moler, noting that the commission had already approved more than 200 houses at its August meeting.

At that meeting, about 70 residents were angry that the decision was made without allowing public comment.

Commission members said they didn't think any other subdivisions would have been affected by the proposal.

"The county has to do something," Mr. Moler said yesterday. "The county has 54 percent of the population in the schools, and the town of Hampstead only produces 46 percent. A moratorium would only have a minor effect on the population of the schools."

After the August commission meeting, Councilman Wayne Thomas introduced a council resolution to request a writ of mandamus from the Carroll County Circuit Court to test the adequate facilities clause. It would include an injunction to halt building until the issue was decided.

A writ of mandamus orders an official to follow the law, Mr. Thomas said.

"A government has a checks and balances system, and this is the way Hampstead chose to do it," Mr. Thomas said after citing the town code. "I'm not shooting from the hip here."

The resolution was tabled.

Since the adequate facilities clause includes services that are provided or received by the town, schools and roads are included, Mr. Thomas said.

"We've always denied building if there wasn't adequate sewer, and that's not a function of the town," he said. The county owns and maintains Hampstead's sewer system.

"If you can refuse development because of the sewer, why can't you do it because of the schools?"

Otherwise, the town's planned unit development zoning doesn't make sense, he said. Planned unit developments, which trigger the adequate facilities clause, allow the builder to construct more houses in exchange for giving the town land for open space.

"Why would anybody in their right mind put planned unit development legislation on the books if you couldn't have any control over growth?" Mr. Thomas said.

Council members are scheduled to consider the resolution Oct. 11, Mr. Thomas said.

"I don't see how a council member could vote against it," he said. "If we're really serious about the overcrowding of schools and uncontrolled growth, why not let the courts decide?"

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