Carroll seeks remedy for its growing pains Commissioners weigh master plan revision, use of planning expert

Subdivision ban urged

At current rate, county could house 50,000 more in next 15 years

February 04, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After years of piecemeal planning and zoning decisions spurred by a population that has grown by 20,000 since 1990, Carroll County is taking a comprehensive look at controlling development.

Already in the works is a series of brainstorming sessions for planning professionals, business leaders and residents to try to reach consensus on revising the master plan, the county's blueprint for growth. And the County Commissioners are considering further use of a nationally recognized planning expert as a consultant to help sort it all out.

The commissioners are scheduled to review a preliminary report from Dr. Robert H. Freilich this week. A law professor at the University of Missouri and chairman of the American Planning Association, Dr. Freilich is recommending a 20-month ban on new subdivisions to give county planners time to rework the 30-year-old master plan.

In two workshops last week, Dr. Freilich said the county must get control over growth that has nearly tripled Carroll's population to 142,000 in 30 years. If present trends continue, he said, another 50,000 people will settle there in the next 15 years.

"Our challenge is to resolve with residents how to provide for 50,000 more people and still keep good quality of life for those already here," said Philip Rovang, the county's planning director. "We have a problem with development and we all recognize that.

"Let's analyze property subdivisions and let's slow them down for the next 20 months. Subdivisions are the key to guiding growth," Mr. Rovang said.

Although everyone agrees growth is a problem, building a consensus on how to manage it may be difficult, he said.

"We don't have to touch the master plan as far as I'm concerned," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Major changes are not necessary, although it needs fine-tuning."

But in South Carroll and Hampstead particularly, residents say they are feeling the crunch from the plan, which has encouraged growth near the county's eight towns and in Eldersburg. The concept was to funnel population, business and recreation near the towns, taking development pressure off farmland and open space in north-central and western Carroll.

Schools and roads have lagged far behind residential growth. Last month, at a meeting at Carrolltowne Elementary in Eldersburg, the commissioners enacted an ordinance that will block development in areas where public facilities are inadequate.

"We are moving from insignificant to significant controls," said Mr. Rovang. "The impact will be now and for the long term."

Previously, if a builder complied with the master plan and subdivision regulations, "it didn't make any difference how many portable classrooms we had or how crowded the roads were," said Mr. Rovang.

Rumors of an impending ban on subdivision approval caused a rush at the county permits office. In the eight-day period that preceded Dr. Freilich's visit and ended Wednesday, the county received 144 new residential permit applications, compared to 63 in all of January 1995.

"There doesn't seem to be any end in sight," said Mike Maring, deputy code official.

Despite the recent surge of permit requests by anxious developers and property owners, Mr. Rovang says builders ultimately should benefit from the master plan overhaul.

"We want to put that unpredictability to rest so everyone knows the rules and can play," he said.

Developer John Pass, who is building a 60-home subdivision in Mount Airy, said that shutting down the county's major industry would be disastrous.

"The county is acting like the builder is the bad guy," Mr. Pass said. "A lot of people in this county depend on this industry for their livelihood."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said that now is the time "to act tough" with developers.

"We weren't as strict as other jurisdictions," he said. "That is why the developers are here. I have nothing against developers as long as the infrastructure is there. It's not, and we have to slow down until it is."

Each year, the county issues about 1,200 building permits and loses 1,800 acres of farmland. Before the county began collecting impact fees on new homes about seven years ago, new developments did not pay their way, said Mr. Rovang.

"Many people screaming now about development probably never paid their load when they [moved to Carroll]," he said.

The proposed halt on approving preliminary and final subdivision plats may be relegated to areas with the greatest growth pressures, county officials say.

"We must come to an agreement quickly on how to handle growth," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who hopes the process does not take 20 months.

Mr. Brown said he favors hiring Dr. Freilich to work in Carroll a few days each month "to review what we have done and look at what we are doing next. He could critique our proposals and make sure all along the line we were in good standing legally."

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