Brown urges panel to kill Haines bill Commissioner wants county to decide on farmlands review

'Do the right thing'

But sponsor says development measure would help farmers

March 29, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS -- Carroll residents -- and not state lawmakers -- should decide whether review regulations for farmland development should be eased in the fast-growing county, Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown told a General Assembly committee yesterday.

Mr. Brown asked the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee to "do the right thing" and reject the controversial measure, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Haines, and allow the county to hammer out an agreement between cash-strapped farmers and slow-growth advocates.

"We will argue. We will fight, but we will reconcile our differences. I believe in Carroll countians. I don't believe it was necessary to take this issue to Annapolis," Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Haines' measure, Senate Bill 649, would allow farmers to develop as many as six lots without having to prove that public facilities, such as roads, schools and other services, are adequate to handle the growth. Mr. Haines, a Republican and chairman of the Carroll delegation, is the owner of a Westminster real estate business.

About a dozen county residents, including Commissioner Richard T. Yates, volunteer firefighters and a county planner, attended the hearing to show their opposition to the measure. Although each resident was recognized by the committee, only Mr. Brown testified.

Because the bill has been considered and passed by the Senate, legislative rules do not allow anyone but the sponsor or someone he or she designates to testify. Mr. Haines had agreed to allow Mr. Brown to testify in opposition.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a retired farmer, attended the hearing to support Mr. Haines' measure.

Mr. Haines called the measure a "pro-agriculture, pro-farming" initiative that would preserve farming and protect the property rights of farmers. He said the bill fulfilled a longtime 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.

Since then, the county has appeased farmers by expediting approval of farm lots through the development review process. However, concern over crowded schools and congested roads has prompted the county planning commission to deny permits in recent months, Mr. Haines said.

"Agriculture is the leading industry in Carroll County," Mr. Haines said. "The children of many farm families are living on lots subdivided from the farm. The ability of the farm owner to sell farm lots has provided the needed cash to keep the farming operations financially sound.

"We must not continue to eliminate the farmers' remaining equity in their land by denying them what few remaining subdivision rights they have," Mr. Haines said.

Several committee members questioned both Mr. Haines and Mr. Brown about the proposed bill and its ramifications. Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll Republican who has said he supports the bill, asked Mr. Brown what happened last fall to prompt the planning board to change its policy toward farmland development.

Mr. Brown said he did not attend the planning commission meetings when the policy was changed. But he noted that Mr. Getty's question was something that could have been addressed at a public hearing.

The bill has been criticized because the Annapolis delegation did not hold a public hearing on the proposal. Mr. Haines told the committee that the measure was discussed at the end of a public hearing on the commissioners' proposed bills in January.

Mr. Brown said neither the commissioners nor the public was informed about the bill. Introducing Mr. Brown yesterday, Del. Ellen Willis, a Carroll Democrat, told the committee she opposed the measure because the delegation had failed to hold a public hearing.

During his testimony, Mr. Brown also said that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has opposed the measure because it would encourage scattered development and has a "high potential of introducing additional water contaminants to the bay and its tributaries."

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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