Belt Farm zoning dispute fussing toward a decision

November 22, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The final decision on the proposed rezoning of the Belt Farm property could come next week, but not without more sparring in the yearlong battle between residents and the developer.

Neighbors of the 205-acre property in Eldersburg are saying greed motivates the request to rezone the conservation land and double the number of houses to be built.

"There is a big profit potential here for people who don't live in or have any concern for Carroll County," said Barry Marsh, president of the Linton Springs Homeowners Association, a group of residents whose properties border Belt Farm.

"The almighty dollar has taken over."

Jack Cooper, the developer, claims that practicality is fueling his petition.

Present zoning for homes on 3-acre lots is "economically unfeasible," he said.

The Carroll County commissioners are scheduled to make their decision at a public hearing Nov. 29.

Neighbors are asking for a postponement that would allow them time to prepare their arguments and time for the new commissioners, who have the final authority on the issue, to take office.

The proposed rezoning would more than double the number of houses that Mr. Cooper and his partner in Carroll Developers of Ellicott City can build on the land near Linton and Liberty roads.

The company would like to build about 240 houses but the present zoning would allow fewer than 100.

In June, the county Planning and Zoning Commission denied the developer's rezoning petition and allowed 45 days to appeal its decision.

"First the developer asked for an indefinite continuance," said Rebecca Davieau, whose Huckleberry Road property adjoins the farm. "Then, just before the election, they ask for an immediate hearing."

On Oct. 28, nearly two months after the appeal deadline, the county simultaneously granted the developer an extension and scheduled the public hearing before the departing county commissioners.

The developer was notified of the hearing immediately.

The farm was posted "with one sign at the far end of the property," Ms. Davieau said. Nearby residents did not receive written notice until Nov. 14.

They have done exactly what was required to meet the letter of the law, but no more," Mr. Marsh said.

The neighbors are asking for an extension, until the new board of commissioners takes office Dec. 5.

"This is too important an issue to allow the outgoing commissioners to decide," Mr. Marsh said.

"We want the new commissioners, who have to live with us for the next four years, to vote on this one."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, the only incumbent re-elected, will serve on the new board with Richard T. Yates and W. Benjamin Brown. Both Mr. Yates and Mr. Brown campaigned on platforms of controlled growth.

"Yates and Brown were voted in for their stands on responsible development," Mr. Marsh said.

"We are not saying they would vote in our favor, but they know our concerns. All we are asking for is a level playing field."

If the hearing takes place as scheduled, attorneys for the developer have asked departing Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy to recuse himself. During his unsuccessful campaign for re-election, Mr. Lippy said he would vote against rezoning the property.

He frequently cited his concerns about rezoning "conservation land" and said that Linton Road, which is the only egress to Liberty Road, would not be able to accommodate increased traffic.

"The developer feels I have a strong predisposition on Belt Farm and that makes an impartial decision impossible," Mr. Lippy said.

"I would not have put myself in the position of recusal had I not thought the new board would vote the same way I would."

Michelle Ostrander, attorney for the Linton Springs Civic Association, said she is preparing for the hearing next week, but has filed for an extension.

The time allotted the residents to prepare their case is significantly shorter than the time allowed the developer, she said.

Mr. Cooper said neighbors have tried to make the rezoning a political issue.

"They are responding like we were asking for an industrial site," said Mr. Cooper.

"All we are asking is for the same zoning they have."

The county requirement to extend water and sewer lines through the development to a planned new elementary school added at least $2 million to the final cost, he said.

"I understand their right to oppose us, but this zoning is inappropriate," he said.

"It is not fair to penalize a developer because the county bought a school site and adjoining neighbors don't want more people around.

"They are portraying us as the greedy developers, who want more and more houses. We didn't start with rezoning in mind, but the county stopped our plans for private water and sewer."

Mr. Cooper said he is basing his appeal on a mistake in the original zoning, which dates to 1977. He said that zoning "was only workable until public water and sewer became a reality."

Ms. Ostrander disagreed.

"Certainly, there has been significant development since 1977, but there was supposed to be," she said.

"The school, the public service area and the change in the neighborhood were always anticipated."

Both parties would have the option of appealing the commissioners' decision to the Circuit Court.

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