Planning Commission OKs eight major subdivisions 'We're rubber stamp,' dejected member says

June 19, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The county Planning Commission hesitantly approved everything on its agenda yesterday, including final plans for eight major subdivisions, most in South Carroll.

"It's just as I predicted," commission member Joseph H. Mettle of Sykesville said dejectely after yesterday's eight-hour, 45-minute meeting. "We're a rubber stamp. The builders are getting everything they want. The people are not being served."

Mettle had said on the eve of yesterday's meeting that he expected the commission to approve every request, even though all were in areas cited for a lack of adequate facilities, particularly schools.

Those in the standing-room-only crowd of attorneys, developers, land owners and slow-growth activists clashed immediately.

The land owners, developers and attorneys had their way early when they persuaded the commission to OK plans it had rejected in previous meetings. Slow-growth activists had their turn next as the commission rejected preliminary plans for two minor subdivisions of two lots each and final plans for a 44-lot subdivision near Johnsville Road and Route 32.

Although the commission followed those votes with approval of final plans for South Carroll subdivisions of 34, 50 and 89 lots, most slow-growth activists left thinking they had achieved a small measure of success. But after a short break, the commission reconsidered its actions and approved plans for the subdivisions it had earlier rejected.

Altogether, after reconsiderations, the commission has approved preliminary or final plans for 362 lots in the past month while disapproving none.

"My God, this is insanity," said Eldersburg resident Dan Hughes, a slow-growth activist and founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll. "I can't believe it."

Hughes was one of those who left when it appeared that the commission had finished voting on subdivision plans.

"If this is their idea of planning, we're in big, big trouble," Hughes said. "I have serious concerns about the state of this county in the next four or five years."

Planning Director Philip Rovang offered a warning to commission members as they prepared to change the votes they had cast earlier. "I am troubled that the public has left now and has no opportunity to be heard again," Rovang said. "We had a lengthly discussion on these votes. Now what [the public will] see is that these people can come back after the fact and change their vote."

Commission Chairman David T. Duree disagreed. "There was notice," he said. "We announced [at the break] that there would be a reconsideration."

Most of votes yesterday were 3 to 2, with commission members Zeno M. Fisher Jr., Robin M. Frazier and Robert H. Lennon voting in the majority. Mettle and alternate Grant S. Dannelly voted in the minority.

The commission was short-handed. County Commissioner Richard T. Yates was absent for the afternoon part of the agenda, and Planning Commission member Thomas G. Hiltz was attending the birth of his daughter.

Duree usually does not vote except to break a tie. But yesterday, he invoked a little-used procedure to block approval of the 44-lot Water's Edge subdivision in Sykesville on a 3-3 vote. He voted against the measure, he said, because he felt Liberty High School would become crowded just as elementary and middle schools in South Carroll would be alleviating their crowding problems.

Twice more, Duree was faced with a 3-2 vote on major subdivisions -- a 50-lot subdivision near Cecil Way and Mayfair Way off Route 26, and a 34-lot subdivision near Ridge Road on Harvest Farms Road. Each time, he paused nearly a minute, head in hands, as he weighed his decision. Each time, he chose not to vote, letting 3-2 decisions stand -- one because the facilities were adequate, he said, and the other because it would be built in stages.

Afterward, Duree learned the Water's Edge development would also be phased in and voted to reconsider the project, which the commission then approved. Before the vote, the developer agreed not to develop more than 20 lots in the next year and to build the infrastructure for the entire project, including some needed by the county, within the coming year.

After approving final plans for the major subdivisions, the commission took the advice of Lennon and approved the preliminary plans for the two minor subdivisions it had rejected earlier.

"To deny them [after the other approvals] is nasty," Lennon said.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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