Planners adopt set of rules governing subdivisions Standards still may not end issue of 'adequate facilities'

June 30, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

After months of acrimonious and inconclusive debate about which "adequate facilities" tests to use when considering subdivision plans, the county Planning and Zoning Commission has adopted standards that appear to please no one.

By a 4-3 vote, the commission agreed Thursday night to deny preliminary plans for major subdivisions -- those with four or more lots -- for the next 18 months when:

The enrollment in any school serving the proposed subdivision is 10 percent above capacity -- unless a new school that would relieve the overcrowding is scheduled to open within 24 months after the planning commission's decision.

Schools serving the proposed subdivision are rated inadequate by the school board and the projected enrollment is 15 percent above capacity -- unless funding for a school that would provide relief is included in the county budget.

Schools serving the proposed subdivision are rated inadequate by the school board and the student population is 20 percent above capacity.

The same conditions would apply to final subdivision plans. However, in areas where school enrollment is 10 percent above capacity, final subdivision plans would be denied unless a school that would relieve the overcrowding was scheduled to open within 12 months of the commission's ruling.

Any plans approved at the preliminary stage that were not brought back for final approval within 12 months or sooner would be denied.

'Portent of things to come'

After Commission Chairman David T. Duree broke a 3-3 tie at 10: 54 p.m. Thursday and approved the measure, he told members, "I have great appreciation for a most productive working together" during the 2 1/2 -hour discussion preceding the vote, and said he hopes it is a "portent of things to come."

Commission members addressed one another in subdued tones Thursday, without the invective of many of their previous discussions on adequate facilities criteria. But they still remain divided.

In fact, Thursday's agreement appears so tenuous that it may never be implemented.

The two main supporters -- Joseph H. Mettle of Sykesville and alternate Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville -- until Thursday were the chief opponents of having the commission establish criteria for judging whether schools, roads and public safety were adequate to support development in an area.

Opposition agrees

They preferred, instead, to accept the determination provided by the school board, the Public Works Department and police and fire officials.

But on Thursday, they reluctantly agreed to allow the commission to set different standards.

A third supporter -- Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine -- nearly backed away from Thursday's agreement even though he had been its prime mover.

Hiltz came to the meeting with different criteria than those adopted by the commission.

"I don't understand the impact" of the new rules, Hiltz said. "I hate not being able to support this motion because I don't understand it. I'm uncomfortable."

He voted for the proposal but said he would reconsider his vote at the next meeting.

Duree said the commission worked too long and was too close to an agreement to quit. "We have 17 subdivisions to review" July 17, Duree said. "It is clear we have got to set a threshold at some point. This is a declaration of a threshold."

Nearly every subdivision plan vote taken by the commission in recent months has been split -- 4-3 or 3-2, as happened June 18 when two members were absent. Until now, Duree has voted only to break a tie.

Some are disappointed

The new policy was disappointing to slow-growth advocate Dan Hughes of Eldersburg and developer Richard L. Hull of Westminster, both of whom took part in the discussion before the vote Thursday night.

"It's much ado about nothing," said Hughes, founder of a citizens group called Solutions for a Better South Carroll. "What makes most sense now is a moratorium until all the questions are answered."

Hull, president of Carroll Land Services Inc., said Thursday's decision, if followed, is already a moratorium -- one that could last at least 18 months and perhaps set a precedent for a longer one.

Hull said the commission can look as far into the future as members want when projecting enrollments that could deny current subdivision plans.

"Only 25 percent of the growth in school population is attributable to new construction," he said. "The rest is from new births. Every school in the county -- without any new growth -- is going to be over the limits" sooner or later.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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