Legislation puts county in a bind Commissioners face setback with state easing land rules

Slow-growth opposition

Battle intensifies after bankers place ad in newspaper

April 14, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Halfway through their term, the Carroll Board of County Commissioners -- three conservative Republicans elected on slow-growth platforms -- find themselves facing one hurdle after another as they try to tighten the reins on runaway suburban sprawl.

The latest setback came from the county's State House delegation, led by Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Realtor, who sponsored legislation that would ease development rules for as many as 9,000 farmland lots -- a move opponents contend would undermine efforts to curb growth and preserve Carroll's agricultural industry.

And, despite strong support from slow-growth activists in South Carroll, nationally known planning consultant Robert H. Freilich's proposed 18-month ban on new development appears to be faltering in the face of overwhelming opposition from bankers, builders and other business people.

"I empathize with the commissioners' problems," said Elmer C. Lippy, Manchester's mayor and a former commissioner. "I know it's gut wrenching, but I applaud their efforts. Growth, and the control of it, is really our top issue, and I can appreciate their frustration. But the responsibility is theirs to do something. They have the power to do something now."

Opposition to the proposed Interim Development Control Ordinance (IDCO), which would stall development while the county updates its master plan, heightened this week when county bankers raised concerns about the measure in a full-page newspaper advertisement.

The proposed ordinance would have "a serious, negative impact on the economic health of Carroll County" and "adversely affect the livelihood of a wide spectrum" of residents, the ad stated.

"The commissioners have a responsibility to all the people in Carroll County," said Richard L. Hull, president of Carroll Land Services and a founder of Citizens for Managed Growth, a group formed to fight the ban.

"If they want to totally stop development, let's have a referendum on the moratorium," he said. "But, I want them to give an honest evaluation of the tax impact."

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said opposition from the development, banking and real estate communities is not surprising.

"Builders build, bankers bank and developers develop and leaders lead," Mr. Brown said. "Change is in the air here, and it's not surprising people are unsettled by change. We understand their concerns. I'm comfortable we've been able to craft an ordinance that will address those concerns. We're not going to deny building permits already in the pipeline."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell is leaning against the proposed ordinance, and Commissioner Richard T. Yates, though supportive, has raised legal concerns.

"I haven't seen a lot about the thing that would make me vote for it," Mr. Dell said. "It's hard to make the point that this is just a temporary measure. People who are going to be affected by it see it as a basis for a blueprint for a final version. That's where the concerns are."

The commissioners were disappointed this year by the decision of the county delegation to Annapolis to reject nearly half of the county's legislative package -- all measures relating to growth, including a controversial referendum on a new tax to raise money for farmland preservation.

The delegation then supported Senate Bill 649, which, in its watered-down version, would allow farmers to develop up to four lots without going through stringent development reviews.

The measure, sponsored by Mr. Haines, was approved by the General Assembly despite widespread opposition in the county, particularly in South Carroll. The governor has not signed the legislation.

Mr. Haines has said that opposition to the bill came from only a vocal minority and that the measure "was right" for the county.

"There's a dark motive behind this, and it's hard for the public to grasp that," Mr. Brown said. "There was a real reach there for all controls to be taken off -- not just in the [agricultural] zone."

If current building rates continued under existing zoning, Mr. Brown estimated that available lots outside agriculture zones would be exhausted during the next 10 years, essentially closing the door on development.

"Certain interests, including bankers, builders and Realtors, look that and see our career here is just 10 years and if we don't do something, literally, we are going to be limited to a short life span," he said.

Most of those supporting the commissioners' efforts to control growth have come from South Carroll, where residents are dealing with crowded schools, congested roads and a plethora of bill-

boards, signs and new development.

Residents delivered to commissioners last week two shoe boxes containing several hundred coupons supporting IDCO, the proposed development ban.

"I hope that is weighed equally against those who spoke out against IDCO at the hearing the other night," said Carolyn Fairbank of Eldersburg. "There's no way anyone who supports IDCO was going to get up and say something in that crowd. It was too intimidating."

Dan Hughes, founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, said adequate infrastructure -- such as schools, roads and water and sewer -- is not in place to handle more development in South Carroll.

"It gets worse with every house that goes up," Mr. Hughes said. "I think we need a breather. I don't see the [ordinance] as a moratorium.

"I see it as a way to control development in areas where there's a shortage of infrastructure. The commissioners have to make up their mind whether they're going to control or they're not going to."

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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