Carroll senator's farmland bill could benefit campaign donor Proposal, subdivision denial aren't linked, they say

April 03, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Greg Tasker and Marina Sarris contributed to this article.

State Sen. Larry E. Haines says he introduced a controversial delegation bill to loosen controls on farmland after farmers complained that county regulations prevented them from developing lots on their land.

But in the past six months, only two farmers -- including W. Wilson Lippy, Mr. Haines' campaign treasurer, who contributed $1,549 to his 1994 campaign and lent it $3,000 -- have been denied development approval.

In December, the Planning Commission denied Mr. Lippy's plans for a four-lot subdivision on his 367-acre Hampstead farm.

Mr. Lippy said yesterday that he had never discussed the denial or the bill with Mr. Haines, but since its introduction he has called and written to all members of the Carroll delegation to support it.

"The agriculture community and property owners in the county support Senator Haines," said Mr. Lippy. "I see absolutely no conflict in this."

He also said that his situation "has nothing to do with this bill. I talk to Larry Haines all the time, but not about business."

According to campaign records, Mr. Lippy lent the Friends of Larry E. Haines at least $3,000 for the 1994 campaign, contributed $1,549 to the campaign and has forgiven the senator $174 interest on the loan. Records also show that the campaign has repaid Mr. Lippy $1,000 of the loan.

Mr. Haines, a Westminster Republican, said he didn't know anything about the denial of Mr. Lippy's application until about two weeks ago, when he spoke with his campaign treasurer.

Mr. Haines said that when decided a few months ago to submit the bill to the legislature on behalf of the county's senators and delegates, he "wasn't aware of Wilson Lippy's situation. I didn't know where his application for a subdivision is. I know he owns farmland. But I don't think the bill will do anything [new] for anyone with a minor subdivision."

The bill would exempt lots zoned agricultural and would exempt from an adequate-facilities review all lots in minor subdivisions -- those three or fewer lots -- regardless of zoning.

County planners estimate that the bill would free about 9,000 lots from development controls.

In supporting the bill, Mr. Haines argued that the Planning Commission has cited inadequate facilities -- particularly crowded schools and roads -- and denied several development applications from area farmers.

A review of commission action on subdivision plans from September 1995 through March 19, however, shows that Mr. Lippy's application was one of only two denials of an agricultural subdivision. The other application, for six lots in an agricultural zone near Westminster, is being resubmitted by the owner this month.

The Planning Commission cited inadequate elementary and middle schools in North Carroll in its denial of Mr. Lippy's plan to create four lots on his farm on Houcksville Road.

"I was surprised that they are making it so tough on us," said Mr. Lippy. "The county is obviously reneging on its promise to farmers."

Zoning regulations enacted in 1978 cut farm equity 80 percent by allowing one lot for every 20 acres instead of one for every acre. Since then, to ease the loss for farmers, the county has had a policy of speeding farm lots through the development process.

Mr. Haines contends that the 18-year-old policy changed last fall when the commission was faced with mounting pressure on schools, roads and utilities. At that time, he said, the commission began routinely denying farmers' applications.

The senator said he learned of what he called the "policy change" from a representative of another farm owner. He sponsored the bill to address that change in policy, he said.

Mr. Haines also said his support of the bill does not conflict with his occupation in real estate.

"There's no conflict of interest on my part. I don't own any agricultural land," the senator said.

Yesterday, at a meeting of Carroll County senators and delegates in Annapolis, Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Republican, said he, not Mr. Haines, initiated the drafting of the bill.

"The bill began at my initiation after hearing constituent concerns about a policy change at the Planning Commission in the fall," Mr. Getty said.

The Senate passed the bill March 14, and the House might vote on it today.

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown has opposed the bill, which has been subject to no public hearing. Asked to comment on the connection between Mr. Haines and Mr. Lippy, he said, "Print the story. That is sufficient comment."

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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