Haines bill on farm lots is opposed Measure proposes to ease rules on development review

'It needs a veto'

Slow-growth backers fear more building would strain facilities

March 26, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A story in Tuesday's Carroll County edition incorrectly stated the number of lots that farmers would be allowed to subdivide under proposed legislation exempting agricultural land from county adequate public facilities regulations. If Senate Bill 649 is approved by the General Assembly, county farmers could develop as many as six lots without facilities review.

The Sun regrets the error.

State planners and Carroll's only Democratic legislator have joined local slow-growth activists in opposing a bill that would exempt farmland from county rules on development review.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Republican State Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of the county's Annapolis delegation and the owner of a Westminster real estate business, is sponsoring the measure. The bill would allow farmers to develop as many as six lots a year without having to prove that public facilities -- roads, schools and other services -- were adequate to handle the growth.

But Democratic Del. Ellen L. Willis and other critics say Senate Bill 649 flies in the face of recent county efforts to stem development with a proposed 18-month ban on new subdivisions.The moratorium was designed to buy time to revise Carroll's 30-year-old master plan.

"This bill takes away one of the vehicles the county has to monitor growth," said Florence Beck Kurdle, chairwoman of the state Economic Growth, Resource Protection and Planning Commission.

She called the proposal "inimical to both sensible facilities management and fiscal prudence."

Several residents and county officials were prepared to testify at a House of Delegates hearing Thursday, but they have been told they will not be allowed to speak.

"Legislative rules don't allow anyone but the sponsor or someone he designates to testify," said County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who opposes the Haines proposal.

There has been no local hearing on the Haines bill, which sailed through the Senate two weeks ago; and absent opposing testimony, it may make the same smooth trip through the House.

General Assembly protocol dictates that other legislators support local bills out of courtesy to the sponsoring county delegation.

"It is a shame, when a bill passes on protocol and courtesy, rather than merit," said Dan Hughes, founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll. "It needs a veto. All this stuff is dividing the community."

Negative impact predicted

In a county that is already losing 1,800 acres of farmland a year, the bill will have a negative impact on agricultural land preservation, Delegate Willis said.

"I favor equity for farmers, but we have vying interests here," said Ms. Willis. "We have the problem of uncontrolled growth."

Mr. Haines said his bill would reinforce an 18-year-old promise to farmers, who lost 80 percent of their land equity when county zoning regulations were changed to allow one lot to be developed for every 20 acres of farmland instead of one lot per acre.

To appease farmers, the county has expedited approval of farm lots through the development review process. The policy worked until recently, when concern for overcrowded schools and roads prompted county planners to deny permits.

Short-term benefits

Mr. Hughes said he "values the sanctity of a promise made to farmers" but that the proposed legislation "comes at the expense of the larger community. It may generate the loss of the agricultural land we all want preserved."

The bill might provide short-term financial benefits to farmers, but Commissioner Brown said it would attract more development to agricultural areas and hurt farming in the long run.

A study conducted by the county Planning Department found about 9,000 potential lots in the agriculture and conservation zone areas of Carroll County. Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a retired farmer, estimates that there are about 4,000 lots.

"I never felt lot owners would rush to immediately build on all those lots," said Mr. Brown. "But, the bill opens up a wide range of development."

Philip Rovang, the county planning director, called the bill odd "compared with what we are trying to do in terms of growth."

Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican, said the bill would restore county policy "to its traditional position" of exempting farmland from lengthy development reviews. Opposition "is all tied into the building moratorium issue," he said.

The proposed legislation warranted comment from the state planning commission, said the chairwoman, Ms. Kurdle. She decried the potential impact the bill would have on already overcrowded schools and roads in Carroll County.

In a March 6 letter, she urged Clarence W. Blount, chairman of the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, to oppose it.

"Elimination of the certification requirement would facilitate subdivision development where agriculture is the appropriate use," Ms. Kurdle wrote.

She also questioned the environmental ramifications of several thousand additional private well and septic systems.

As many as 6,000 more students could be added to area schools, where many children now use portable classrooms, her letter said.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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