Pause to rethink the master plan Carroll County: Interim moratorium should not choke off justifiable growth.

April 24, 1996

CARROLL COUNTY commissioners face a tough choice, one that has been put off for years, when they decide on the prickly proposal for an 18-month moratorium on new residential growth.

Breathing room is surely needed to fundamentally overhaul the master land use plan, now three decades old, while not choking off healthy, justifiable growth in the process. That's why the commissioners hired national expert Robert Freilich to come up with tested rules and procedures for the moratorium.

With much of the county favoring a slow-growth policy, even while wincing at the prospect of higher property and income taxes to sustain that containment approach, there's ample support for such a measure. But the business community, particularly the home builders, predicts widespread financial catastrophe if the spigot is turned off.

The difficulty is in finding the right balance of restraints and approvals, of modifications and exceptions. The unhappy experience of Howard County, which went full-bore for the growth clampdown in 1990, should provide ample guidance in this undertaking.

While the commissioners must decide on imposing interim controls, their main goal remains sensible overhaul of the master land use plan in that period. If the interim controls are well defined, we see no reason to take the power for judgments on individual cases from the Planning Commission. Leave the County Commissioners free to deal with other matters.

South Carroll is under the heaviest pressure for development (with the most acute shortfall of public facilities to support it). That area deserves relief and the strictest residential development curbs in this interim period.

Previously approved subdivisions should not be blocked in mid-course -- if they meet the adequate public facilities test. This is fair, even if it seems contrary to the aim of the interim law.

This is also an opportunity to coordinate the growth/development plans of Carroll's towns and cities with those of the county. There's no point in squeezing off growth in the county only to see it mushroom in the sovereign municipalities. While towns are understandably wary of ceding authority, they should work to make this plan a concerted management effort to protect the overall quality of life in the county.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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