Belt Farm hearing gets overflow crowd

November 30, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

A few minutes into a public hearing on the petition to rezone the Belt Farm property in South Carroll, the county attorney apologized for the lack of adequate meeting facilities.

Inadequate facilities, particularly roads and schools, are what drew a large crowd to the County Office Building last night to protest the petition that would allow a Howard County developer to double the number of homes to be built on the 205-acre property north of Liberty Road.

Carroll Developers of Ellicott City is asking the county commissioners to rezone the property, a petition that the county Planning and Zoning Commission denied in June.

The original zoning called for fewer than 100 homes on 3-acre lots with private water and sewer.

The county is now requiring the developer to extend its public water and sewer lines to a proposed new elementary school, west of the farm, and hook up homes in the proposed development to the system.

Jack Cooper, developer, said that requirement has added $2.5 million to his costs and makes the present zoning illogical.

About 100 people crowded into a basement room, which holds about 60. Most could neither see nor hear the witnesses.

During a discussion of a map, one man came from the back of the room and sat on the floor in front of the drawing.

The microphone system was faulty and the air was stifling. Frequently, the audience asked witnesses to "speak up" and "address the crowd."

"I apologize for the inadequate facilities," said Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr., county attorney. "The witnesses must address the [county] commissioners, who must make a decision."

"I am a taxpayer and I want to hear," said Bob Mercier, who lives in the subdivision that adjoins the farm.

Mr. Mercier said he would not stay for the four hours set for the hearing and was not hopeful on the outcome.

"They wouldn't even entertain questions about the suitability of the room," he said.

John Maguire, attorney for the development company, had asked Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy to recuse himself from the hearing.

During Mr. Lippy's unsuccessful campaign for re-election, he said he would vote against the rezoning.

"I refuse to recuse myself," Mr. Lippy said last night. "I pledge to make an objective and impartial decision based on what I hear tonight."

The departing commissioners were unsure whether they would decide immediately on the controversy, which has raged for nearly two years.

The hearing lasted well into the night, with each side exceeding the two hours allotted to state their cases and call witnesses.

Mr. Maguire contended a mistake exists in the original zoning, created as part of the 1977 master plan for South Carroll.

Michelle Ostrander, attorney for the Linton Springs Civic Association, a group of residents whose properties border Belt Farm, said development over the past 16 years has proven the wisdom of the original plan.

"That plan was enacted with great foresight," she said. "The planners knew development would come. The law doesn't allow for changes in circumstances. Public water and sewer is not an unanticipated change."

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