Commissioner candidates tackle issue of growth Republicans say preservation is key CAMPAIGN 1994

October 23, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Republican candidates for Carroll Commissioner aren't promising to stop growth in the county. They know people are attracted to a community that has kept its rural heritage and open spaces while becoming a Baltimore suburb.

The question the candidates face is how to maintain the scenic vistas and fields for growing corn and grazing cattle while making room for more people and the schools, roads and businesses they demand.

Voters have been asking the three Republicans how they would manage growth if elected. The candidates have ideas, some more specific than others, but they acknowledge that the task isn't easy.

Three Democratic candidates also are in the race. The commissioner seats will go to the top three vote-getters in the Nov. 8 general election.

The Republican candidates are Donald I. Dell, a 69-year-old Westminster dairy farmer seeking a second term; Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, 50, a former candy store owner who && works full time as mayor; and Richard T. Yates, 69, of Eldersburg, a retired U.S. Department of Defense inspector who has never held public office.

Mr. Dell and Mr. Brown have experience dealing with developers and are aware of specific tools the county may use to limit growth. Mr. Yates is not as familiar with the workings of county government and has not offered many specific proposals.

Mr. Dell has learned that curbing growth is difficult. His slogan in the commissioner race four years ago was "Keep it Country."

He now says that is impossible.

"The general public thinks the commissioners can pass an ordinance and stop growth," he said. "I thought we'd have more control over growth."

Overall, Mr. Dell believes government should provide basic services such as education, roads and police protection. He opposes many regulations on businesses and adamantly supports private property rights.

He has worked to protect farmers from laws that limit what they can do with their land.

He opposed a zoning change in the late 1970s that limited development on agriculturally zoned land from one lot per acre to one lot per every 20 acres.

Mr. Dell said recently that it was a necessary change to help limit sprawl in the countryside.

"That was a move that had to be made whether anybody liked it or not, and I concede that," he said. "Fortunately, the ag preservation program came along at the same time."

Under the program, the state and county paid farmers for the development rights to their land. The program was successful in Carroll until a few years ago when state money for it ran out.

Mr. Dell said his family's farm on Sullivan Road is permanently preserved. He wants to add $3 million to the county budget for agricultural preservation.

This year, the county contributed about a $500,000 to the program. He said he doesn't know where the extra money would come from and that preservation is not the only answer.

"It's the right step, but it doesn't have a great impact on growth," he said.

Mr. Brown said he would like to hire a consultant to study whether the county's goal of preserving 100,000 of its 290,000 acres is realistic. About 40,000 acres are preserved now.

More than doubling that number would be expensive. It is possible agriculture could remain a viable industry by preserving much less land, he said.

Mr. Yates said agricultural preservation is important, but that if there is no money for it, the county might consider establishing a permanent barrier around some farmland.

"I think some sites should be set aside for farming and other areas for construction of homes," he said.

Another way to manage growth is to make sure adequate services, such as roads and schools, are in place before more homes are built.

The county has an adequate facilities law, but the law does not require that growth be stopped until services are available. The law provides guidelines, but no mandates.

Many residents have called for building moratoriums because they don't want their children attending classes in the portable units that the county uses when a school's enrollment is over capacity.

Officials have imposed moratoriums twice. They imposed a two-month countywide building moratorium because of crowded schools in 1988.

A moratorium on sewer connections in the Freedom area lasted almost 3 1/2 years, from February 1989 to July 1992.

Mr. Dell said he doesn't like moratoriums because they create peaks and valleys for the building industry and its employees. Putting carpenters, plumbers and others out of work during a moratorium reduces county revenues, he said.

"We need level growth," he said.

About 1,100 new homes are occupied during a year in Carroll. Officials should look at capping or reducing that number, Mr. Dell said.

"By using portables, we're getting by" in schools, he said.

Some teachers have told him they like the portables because the buildings are modern, air-conditioned and away from the main part of the school, he said.

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