Farm proposal sent to governor Effort to ease development rules widens divisions

April 09, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

An amended version of a controversial bill easing the rules for developing Carroll County farmland passed the General Assembly yesterday.

The legislation, which requires the signature of Gov. Parris N. Glendening to become law, has widened the rift between slow-growth advocates and members of the farming community who say they have been unable to develop their land because of restrictive county policies.

Under the proposal, sponsored by Carroll Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines, farmers could develop up to four lots without having to prove that public facilities -- such as roads, schools and other services -- were adequate to handle the growth. It also would exempt some minor subdivisions -- those with three or fewer lots -- from adequate-facilities review.

"I think it provides the farmers with equity in their land and fulfills a promise that was made to them in 1978, when their properties were down-zoned by 95 percent," Mr. Haines said after yesterday's Senate vote.

Supporters maintain that since December 1995, the Carroll County Planning Commission has abandoned a longtime policy of expediting farm lots through the development process.

South Carroll County activist Dan Hughes said the legislation thwarts efforts to manage growth, and he is urging county citizens to call for a gubernatorial veto.

"It opens up a lot of land for development that would normally have been exempt," said Mr. Hughes, a founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, which advocates growth controls. "I can understand the plight of the farmer, but I think it would be possible to make exceptions for hardship cases without opening up the door for minor subdivisions as well."

Mr. Haines, chairman of the county delegation, said he expects Mr. Glendening to sign the legislation.

The amended bill, which received preliminary approval Saturday from the House of Delegates, reduced from six to four the number of lots that could be developed in agricultural zones. The new bill also includes a "sunset clause," which means it would be in effect for only two years.

Democrat Del. Ellen L. Willis supported the amendments, saying, "It gives us a good opportunity to address equity issues the farmers have been dealing with in being able to continue to develop their land as they have been for the past 20 years.

"At the same time it creates a period in which we'll study how well we'll move forward for the next 20 years."

The Westminster delegate said the "lively" nature of the discussion indicates a need for more public discourse and that "there's a need to do a lot more open discussion back in the county."

The bill has faced strong opposition from County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates, who say the measure conflicts with their attempts to manage growth.

Mr. Brown has argued that the legislation might benefit farmers financially in the short term but would irrevocably change the nature of farming in the county as more agricultural lots are developed.

Mr. Haines said yesterday that he never anticipated that the bill would provoke such strong reactions.

"The opposition was based on emotions and not the facts of the legislation," Mr. Haines said.

He said the bill wouldn't lead to rampant development of farmland because the subdivisions are still subject to public health and forest conservation regulations and that approval of minor subdivisions takes two to four years.

The bill also has come under attack because one of the few people who have been unable to proceed with development because of the adequate-facilities test was a major contributor to Mr. Haines' campaign and his campaign treasurer.

W. Wilson Lippy was one of two farmers in the past six months to be denied development approval by the county Planning Commission. Mr. Lippy contributed $1,549 to Mr. Haines' 1994 campaign and lent it $3,000.

Mr. Haines, the owner of a Westminster real estate firm, said that Mr. Lippy's situation didn't influence him.

"I really feel bad for Larry Haines," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a retired farmer who has supported the legislation. "He's been accused of all kinds of things, and I think he's sincerely had the farmers' welfare at heart."

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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