House gives initial OK to farmland bill Measure would ease requirements for developing acreage

Final approval expected

'Sunset clause' added, agricultural zone lots cut from six to four

April 07, 1996|By Greg Tasker and Marina Sarris | Greg Tasker and Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

The Maryland House of Delegates gave preliminary approval yesterday to a watered-down bill that would loosen the rules on ** developing Carroll County farmland.

The delegation bill received the preliminary OK a day after a committee amended the measure to reduce from six to four the '' number of lots that can be developed in agricultural zones and to add a "sunset clause," which means the legislation would be in effect only for two years.

The bill is expected to get final House approval tomorrow, and the Senate is expected to pass the watered-down House version. If that happens, the bill would go to the governor for his signature.

The legislation, proposed by Carroll Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines, has been controversial because it would allow farmers to develop the lots without having to prove that public facilities -- such as roads, schools and other services -- are adequate to handle the growth. It also would exempt some minor subdivisions -- with three lots or fewer -- from adequate-facilities review.

The bill has been opposed by County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates, who contend the measure interferes with their efforts to manage growth. Even minor subdivisions, they said, would add to crowded schools and congested roads.

The bill also has been disputed because one of the few people to be hurt by the adequate-facilities test was a big contributor to Mr. Haines' campaign. In the past six months, only two farmers -- one of them Haines campaign treasurer W. Wilson Lippy, who contributed $1,549 to his 1994 campaign and lent it $3,000 -- have been denied development approval.

Proponents of the bill, including Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll Republican, say it is needed because the Carroll County Planning Commission has veered from a longtime policy of expediting farm lots through the process.

"We pretty much laid our case during the voting that this was not a normal process for dealing with adequate-facilities law in our county," said Mr. Getty, who is a member of the House committee. "Policies have been changed in closed session, and this was our way -- as the legislative branch of Carroll County -- to work toward a better planning policy."

Democratic Del. Ellen L. Willis, the only county delegation member to oppose the bill, said Friday that the committee's changes made the legislation more palatable. She said reducing the lots would lessen the development impact.

The committee also amended the bill Friday to require a public hearing before county commissioners. The hearing, however, would not affect the legislation. It would give the public a chance only to voice concerns about rules to enforce it, lawmakers said.

"I like the opportunity for a public hearing," Ms. Willis said. "It's a hearing that doesn't impact the bill, but it's a good opportunity for a public forum. Hopefully, it will lead to the crafting of adequate-facilities legislation in the county."

Said Mr. Yates about the hearing: "This is a victory of some sorts. It will let the delegation know what people in this county really think about their destroying our growth-management efforts. I don't think they're going to be very pleased with what they hear."

South Carroll County activist Dan Hughes wasn't as happy with the prospect of a hearing.

"This is backwards," said Mr. Hughes, a founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, a group of community activists. "You don't pass legislation and then have a hearing. You have a hearing and then pass legislation. I hope the citizens of Carroll County will call the governor and urge a veto."

Other South Carroll residents remained opposed to the bill.

"Reducing the number of lots from six to four doesn't make much of a difference," said Vonnie Keefe of Eldersburg. "I don't think this bill takes care of farmers' problems. I don't think it helps farmers one bit. I think it helps only one businessman. Who is he trying to fool here?"

Mr. Haines, a Republican who is chairman of the county delegation and owner of a Westminster real estate firm, conceded the changes won't satisfy opponents.

"These people took their position before they even understood what the bill was about," he said. "They're a very vocal minority from what I can tell from the calls and letters I've received. I stand for what I believe is right."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a retired farmer who has supported the bill, said he believes the changes would be acceptable to cash-strapped farmers who want to sell lots to raise money.

"It's a good move in light of funding cuts to the agricultural preservation program. You can't say to a person that you can't use your property but we're not going to compensate you to keep it in agricultural preservation," he said.

Mr. Getty said the sunset clause was included because the delegation believes the county Planning Commission will address its concerns about the adequate-facilities law within two years.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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