Making it up as they go along Commissioners ignored law and usurped town governance in the process.

January 02, 1996

IMPROVISING IS a much admired quality in jazz, but making up the rules as one goes along is hardly appropriate for government.

Carroll County government's granting of a grading permit to developer Martin K. P. Hill for his new project in Hampstead without the town's approval is unprecedented. It is a violation of the county's own ordinance as well as a slap at all eight of Carroll's incorporated towns.

On Dec. 18, the county issued Mr. Hill a grading permit for the 90-unit Roberts Field condominium community without Hampstead's approval. Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates signed the permit, basing their decision on the advice of County Attorney George Lahey. According to Mr. Lahey's research, the county could not withhold the grading permit and might be subject to a lawsuit if it did.

A quick review of Ordinance 100, which deals with grading and sediment control, indicates otherwise. County law clearly states that a "grading permit shall not be issued without the approval of all reviewing agencies "

The ordinance defines "reviewing agencies" as those "designated by the environmental services office to review plans and permit applications for compliance with federal, state, county and local regulations and guidelines." (Our italics.) The distinction between "county" and "local" clearly indicates that towns play an essential role in the approval process and must sign off before the permit can be issued.

This incident raises serious issues about the purpose of Carroll's local governments, particularly on growth management.

If towns such as Hampstead can't exercise control in the development process within their own boundaries, the county has arbitrarily invalidated an important function of self-government -- the municipalities' right to manage their affairs.

Carroll's master plan calls for development to be concentrated in and around the incorporated towns. To be successful, the approval process must be a joint endeavor between county and town officials. Making up the rules -- as the commissioners clearly did in this case -- undercuts any sense of cooperation. Hampstead would be well within its rights to sue the county to obey its own laws.

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