Guidance on growth control eludes panel Planning commission meets tomorrow night about possible rules

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

County Planning Commission members, meeting a week early to avoid a conflict with the July 4th holiday, are likely to provide their own fireworks tomorrow night.

The issue dividing the seven-member commission and producing increasingly short fuses is growth -- and the panel's seeming inability to control it. Some in the minority are so upset at continued approval for subdivision plans in South Carroll despite traffic congestion and school crowding that they have publicly questioned the integrity of members who have voted to approve new development.

Commission alternate Grant S. Dannelly, for instance, told a group of Eldersburg residents and business leaders last week that four commission members, whom he did not name, have conflicts of interest.

But commission Chairman David T. Duree of New Windsor says the panel can never control growth until members agree on guidelines for deciding when roads, schools and other public facilities are inadequate.

Without such standards, Duree says the commission has little choice but to approve subdivision plans.

Indeed, the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Circuit Court have overturned some of the commission's votes to deny developments.

In recent weeks, approval has become the rule rather than the exception. Since May 21, the commission has approved everything to come before it -- preliminary or final plans for 362 lots. Some plans initially rejected in that time were reconsidered and approved by the commission.

After a June 18 meeting in which the commission reversed itself on a 44-lot subdivision in South Carroll and approved it along with 196 lots in seven other subdivisions, County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown Jr. wrote a letter, urging members to declare a building moratorium in two of Carroll's fastest-growing areas: Hampstead and Eldersburg.

Planning Commission member Joseph H. Mettle of Sykesville has asked Duree and Planning Director Philip Rovang to include the Brown request on tomorrow night's agenda, but he doubts his request will be honored.

"Why they haven't put in on the agenda already is beyond me," Mettle said.

Even if the Brown moratorium proposal is considered, Duree says he will urge members to come up with clear guidelines for determining whether a proposed development would push strained public services to the breaking point.

"We have to have a rational basis of criteria for disapproval," Duree said. "It is important that what we do is fair and defensible."

Duree said he had been seeking a consensus on adequate facilities standards. But resistance by some members has persuaded him to let the majority decide. Those who vote for standardized criteria will stand by the rules when judging subdivision requests, he believes.

Among the guidelines the commission is scheduled to discuss tomorrow night is one that means disapproval for major subdivision plans in any area where the school capacity is 120 percent or more.

"If those criteria are adopted, they would be more than a defendable basis for disapproving major subdivisions," said commission member Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine. The adoption of the school standard would affect development not only in South Carroll, where all schools are crowded, but other rapidly growing areas, he said.

Hiltz is optimistic that the commission can reach agreement on the standards, provided members behave in a "more collegial and professional manner" than they have been.

"We need to talk to each other rather than through the newspaper," he said. "We should be reluctant to say anything that would [further] polarize the commission."

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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