Adequate facilities consensus is elusive Planners are faulted for inconsistency in reviewing proposals

'Aura of the unknown'

Builders, developers, slow-growth backers share frustration

June 09, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

A member of the polarized county Planning Commission predicted last week that the current membership will never reach consensus on adequate facilities criteria.

Members have been trying for months to reach agreement on the adequate facilities criteria they should apply when reviewing subdivision plans.

Yet adequate facilities reports on schools, roads, public safety and environmental services continue to include the information they need when voting on plans.

Often, each of the seven members interprets those reports differently. The result, critics say, is that the commission's split decisions lack consistency.

It is a criticism that commission members acknowledge. "At the moment, our 4-3 vote moves around," Commission Chairman David T. Duree said.

That uncertainty is especially perplexing to builders, bankers and developers, zoning attorney Charles D. Hollman told the commission last week.

"The development community is in a huge aura of the unknown," he said. "This is not working for anybody."

Slow-growth advocates such as Wayne B. Schuster of South Carroll County aren't any happier with the Planning Commission.

As a planner in Colorado a few years ago, Schuster said, he helped forge a consensus among residents, school board members and builders about how to develop a 25-square-mile area that grew from 150,000 to 250,000 people in five years.

"My frustration in coming to this body is that it is one of the last vestiges of the lack of consensus," Schuster said.

Last month, Planning Director Philip Rovang put three adequate facilities proposals before the commission to help members choose an objective. And last week, commission member Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine offered six adequate facilities "precepts" to help move discussion along.

Hiltz suggested that the commission make adequate facilities determinations as soon as possible in the planning process.

But commission member Joseph H. Mettle of Sykesville would have no part of it. The commission doesn't need new guidelines or rules, he said. "All we need to do is implement what has been given us. We can do our job."

That won't happen, Mettle said, unless the commission membership changes.

"I don't think we're going anywhere till there is a different makeup on this commission," he said.

Zeno M. Fisher Jr. urged his fellow members to look more closely at the Hiltz proposal.

The commission vice chairwoman, Robin Frazier, said she opposes the part of the Hiltz proposal that would make minor subdivisions of three lots or less subject to adequate facilities tests and include them in the cumulative impact.

Raising another concern, Eugene Curfman, president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firefighters Association, asked that firefighters and emergency personnel be consulted about all subdivision plans, no matter how minor. "If we can't get there, it's too late then to say we have a problem," he said.

"We need to express our concerns initially so that we don't get to the point that we can't provide the services we have been charged to provide."

Many people moving to the county come from jurisdictions that have paid fire and emergency rescue personnel, Curfman said, and they assume Carroll does as well. They don't realize Carroll's service is volunteer, he said. "All we're asking is that we can see [initial] plans so we can prevent problems."

Although the commission again failed to agree, Duree said members had made some advances last week. "I think we have got the venting out of the way and will be able to make some progress," he said, when the commission meets again on June 18 to consider more subdivision plans.

Asked what advice he would give developers seeking commission approval of their subdivision plans during this uncertain time, L. Patrick Dail, government affairs representative for the Home Builders' Association of Maryland, offered: "Bring your lawyer and make any argument you can."

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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