A growth-management expert is calling for a 20-month ban on approving new building permits to give the county time to rework its master plan and get control of residential growth that has nearly tripled Carroll's population in 30 years.
Robert H. Freilich, law professor at the University of Missouri and chairman of the planning and law division of the American Planning Institute, laid out the proposal for county and municipal officials in a two-day seminar in Westminster Thursday and Friday.
"This is not a moratorium," he said. "Existing approvals are going to go forward." But, he recommended that the county not issue any building permits for 20 months, beginning around March 1.
Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said the interim plan would allow the county "to turn back the spigot a bit until we figure out what to do."
In his presentation, Dr. Freilich cited examples of counties across the country that have successfully managed growth and others that have let it destroy the character of the community. Dr. Freilich often chided Carroll planners in his assessment of the county's growth:
"I don't know how you could let half the subdivisions through without adequate transportation," he said. "If you are relying on the state for roads, it has to be a funded program. If the roads are not here or in a funded program, they don't count."
Maintaining current development trends would be disastrous, Dr. Freilich said.
In 30 years, Carroll County's population has grown from 55,000 to 142,000. Each year, the county issues 1,200 building permits and loses 1,800 acres of farmland. By, 2016, the population is expected to grow to 214,000, said Brenda Dinne, a county planner.
"If I ran out a trend analysis for 20 years, I guarantee everyone in this room would be sick," Dr. Freilich said. "You have the most beautiful county here, but in 20 years you will have 2 1/2 -story Frankensteins occupying 3-acre lots everywhere."
Schools and industry lag behind residential growth, he said. In the two seminars, which were open to the public, Dr. Freilich urged "concurrency" -- a practice of forcing public facilities to keep pace with residential development.
The county paid a $1,500 consulting fee for the two-day event, and Carroll officials were so impressed that they're considering spending up to $250,000 to bring Dr. Freilich back to help in the master plan review.
"Our staff has had many of the same ideas, but he has the vision to look beyond," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Basically, I support him almost right down the line. He can help us."
Rush of applications
In the meantime, the proposed 20-month ban on new permits may have produced the opposite effect. After local developers heard that Dr. Freilich was coming, the office of building permits got 96 applications in one day, county officials said.
In a county with a backlog of about 9,000 permits that have been issued but not used, officials must get a hold on uncontrolled growth, Commissioner Richard T. Yates said.
"We have to take care of the pressure areas in South Carroll and Hampstead," he said. "Then we can address the areas that want growth, like Union Bridge, New Windsor and Taneytown."
Dr. Freilich saw one problem with the long-standing county policy of concentrating growth around the towns.
"Everything is growing toward each other, and you will have a tremendous east side," he said.
"I hate to see all that beauty succumb to continuous sprawl, especially if the levels of service are worse."
Long-term planning is key
The county Planning Commission is the key to long-term vision, Dr. Freilich said. He urged the panel to devote more than 50 percent of its time in the next 20 months to long-term planning.
"All else is secondary," he said. "The growth-management element is the brain of your mechanism.
"Build to a level of service that meets the quality of life," he said. "Determine what level of service you want and how you are going to do it. The whole key is never create more deficiency."
Dr. Freilich criticized the county on several issues, particularly the lack of economic development, calling industry a forgotten element.
"I look at your industrial-zoned land and I choke," he said. "You have to get some economic development in here. If it means you have to reduce residential development, so be it."
Economic development pays in taxes 135 percent of the cost needed to service it, whereas residential development pays only 66 cents of each dollar, Dr. Freilich said. More than 2,000 acres available for economic development in the county are underused or misused, he said.
"Where is your balance?" Dr. Freilich asked. "Where is your industry? You convert your warehouses to indoor soccer fields. Or you build warehouses that employ three minimum-wagers on prime industrial land."
If building stopped completely, the county would still need schools and road improvements, said Greg Dorsey, newly elected president of the Carroll County Homebuilders Association.
The county collected $2 million in impact fees on new development last year, the majority of which went for schools. Still, many schools are at or above capacity.
All the solutions to overcrowding are painful for both the public and developers, Mr. Dorsey said.
"The county has been playing catch-up and relying on the state for money," Mr. Dorsey said. "If you want schools and roads now, you have to pay."
Urging county officials to work to develop a consensus, he called the county's zoning map a guessing game and a poor tool to control growth.
"Zoning is a shifting sand that constantly changes," he said. "It's only one tool out of many, and it's inadequate at best."