Officials pass subdivision moratorium Yates, Brown approve 18-month ban designed to slow county growth

'Economic downturn' feared

Opponents, backers are disappointed with scope of measure

April 26, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

In a split vote yesterday that mirrors the controversy the proposal has generated in recent months, the County Commissioners adopted a countywide ban on new subdivisions.

The halt begins May 5 and will remain for 18 months or until the county adopts a new Master Plan, whichever comes first.

Commissioners Richard T. Yates and W. Benjamin Brown voted for the measure. Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted against it.

Developers, bankers and other business leaders formed alliances and filled public hearings in a high-powered attempt to defeat the Interim Development Control Ordinance. They argued that the proposal could crush the county's economic development efforts and bring the county to the brink of financial ruin.

Slow-growth advocates insisted that the county could impose the ban for the next 18 months and still attract new businesses.

Neither side was satisfied with the result yesterday.

Despite a few last-minute adjustments intended to make the new law less burdensome, "the possibility of a spiraling economic downturn that is not easily reversible" still exists, said developer Gregory S. Dorsey after yesterday's vote. Mr. Dorsey is president of the Carroll Chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

Slow-growth activist Dan Hughes, founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, said he thinks the ban doesn't do enough and worries about growth problems after the 18-month halt.

"I wasn't happy," he said. "If two years from now, we're still building 1,000 houses in the Freedom district, using more portable classrooms, having increased traffic congestion and more commerce at the intersection of [Routes] 26 and 32, then [the growth control measure] is a failure. That's my bottom line."

F: Mr. Brown, reading a statement to a standing-room-only

crowd in the commissioners' hearing room, said the ordinance will give county planners the time to implement "the right policy" -- centering growth within planned growth areas.

In recent years the county has not done that, he said. Thirty percent of new homes have been built outside planned growth areas, and 20 percent have been built on farmland.

"Accepting this business as usual is a prescription for failure," he said. "Unless Carroll countians are today willing to recommit to preserving agriculture as the principal land use, the pastoral scene of Carroll's countryside will vanish as certainly as the horse and wagon."

Mr. Yates said the questions he had about the ban when it first was proposed have been answered. "I feel comfortable with what I found out," he said. "I was elected on a slow-growth message."

Mr. Dell said he is concerned about the amount of opposition the ban has generated, the threat of a lawsuit, and the perception of many outside the county that the ban is a "negative position against business."

He fears "another layer of red tape will be imposed" by bringing the commissioners into the zoning process. Under the new law, the commissioners will review permit applications and hear appeals. "I would have liked to have seen the administrative rules and regulations prior to the vote rather than afterward," he said.

Developers, who did not learn of the last-minute changes until just before yesterday's vote, say they will need time to figure out how the ban will affect them.

Builders had feared they would have to bring plans already approved before the commissioners for further review under the ban.

But they learned yesterday that most projects that received preliminary plan approval before March 15 will be exempt.

"It appears to be something we can work with," said Richard L. Hull, a developer who led opposition to the ban. "But there is no way of knowing that until we see how it is administered. It is a discretionary situation. If administered as written, projects in the pipeline will be protected."

County planning director Philip Rovang said the interim growth controls should ultimately prove a good thing for the county.

"When I came here [last fall], I found stacks of [growth] studies that were never adopted," Mr. Rovang said. "I'm not sure each one even came to the table."

Mr. Rovang wants to change that. He sees the ban as a way to get all concerned parties talking about how best to plan Carroll County's future. "It forces everyone to come to the table to say, 'We've got to have something better than this.' "

"I'm willing to sit down [with developers] and help them figure out where they are," he said. "We want everyone to be treated fairly and equitably."

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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