For long-term success, planning mode must changeOver the...


March 03, 1996

For long-term success, planning mode must change

Over the past year, the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission has struggled to improve the planning, capital improvement budgeting and subdivision review processes. There have been successes. Most notably, the Planning Commission, with the support of the county commissioners, initiated a comprehensive review of the county's master plan.

The planning commission continues to better integrate the public in the decision-making process through several recent initiatives, including regular Thursday night meetings designed to encourage public participation, periodic meetings with town officials and town planning commissions and establishment of advisory-type community councils.

However, at this critical time in determining the future of Carroll .. County, the success of the planning commission should not be defined by the praise of citizens pleased with our denial of a subdivision, by the concern of citizens disappointed with our approval of a site plan, or by the fervor of stakeholders who feel that due process has been denied.

Our ultimate success as planners should be measured long after our appointed terms are over. In order to be successful over the long term, the planning commission must consider changing its decision-making practices and philosophies. These considerations should be guided by the following key elements.

* Consensus decision-making must lead to the "highest common goal," not the "lowest common denominator." All the planning time in the world will not be effective unless we can abandon positioning and ideology and focus on defining a common goal and a path to achieve that goal. * "Just say no" ultimately will not be a successful approach for managing growth. "No" should be considered a starting point, not an end point. Although the planning commission can take some solace knowing that it has not exasperated the problem by approving another subdivision, it must recognize that many citizens living around the proposed subdivision are already affected by the adverse impacts of growth. Therefore, the bigger responsibility, and challenge, is to manage growth effectively such that the planning commission never has to say "no."

* We must fundamentally change the way we assess the adequacy of public facilities. In August 1991, the Carroll County commissioners formed the Adequate Facilities Advisory Committee. This committee completed its charges and published a report entitled, "Adequate Facilities Advisory Committee Report," in February 1993. Today, three years after this report was published, the inadequacy of public schools, water and sewer, solid waste disposal facilities, emergency services and infrastructure remains deeply troubling and, arguably, unabated. Why? In part, because we have not followed through on some of the recommendations in the report. But perhaps more importantly, we may have become wedded to an imperfect demagogue -- the Adequate Facilities provision of Article 66B -- that lulled us into thinking that this provision gives us all the tools we need to manage growth and will save us from our planning transgressions.

Today, the basis for determining adequacy is often shrouded in mystique. These must be clear and defendable and the analysis that leads one to conclude the adequacy or inadequacy of a facility must be available for in-depth scrutiny by the planning commission and the public.

Several recommendations contained in the "Adequate Facilities Advisory Committee Report" deserve additional consideration. These recommendations include: 1) Establishing a formal process to collect and evaluate additional information prior to review of a subdivision where there is an inadequacy of a public facility and 2) Adopting uniform adequate facilities standards that are applied by the county and its eight municipalities. The current master plan and our current regulations and ordinances do not give us enough tools to efficiently manage growth. The approval standard, "consistent with the master plan," must mean more than zoning and adequate facilities. A fundamental question on how to determine consistency with the master plan must be considered as we review and revise the master plan. After all, what good is a master plan if we do not know how to measure whether actions that we take are consistent with it?

Tom Hiltz


The writer is a member of the Carroll County Planning Commission.

Recently, the Carroll County Planning Commission met for nine hours to discuss myriad issues regarding the future of Carroll County. As a voting member of that commission, I helped make '' hard decisions that impacted on the lives of everyone living and working in Carroll County.

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