Dark cloud over planning commission Carroll County: Political meddling, shifting decisions shake public confidence in body.

July 24, 1996

WHETHER A matter of perception or of reality, the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission is under a dark cloud that seems to be growing. Public confidence in this body has been shaken by a series of developments.

Under strong competing public pressures to approve growth or deny it, the appointed commission has vacillated in finding firm, comprehensible standards for its decisions, while also attempting to pursue compromise.

It angered the growth-freeze crowd last month with a sneaky HTC "reconsideration" of South Carroll subdivisions (after opponents left) that it had rejected hours earlier.

It angered farm owners with a quiet reversal last year of a long-standing practice to exempt minor subdivisions from the adequate-facilities review standards, in turn provoking a backlash from the county's legislative delegation.

It angered developers and their opponents alike with varying interpretations of adequate-facilities requirements. Only last week did the commission finally see fit to use school-capacity rules to deny two subdivision applications.

That "balance of anger" might be viewed as the best sort of public policy. Unfortunately, there's too much distrust of the commission and the process to justify that smug conclusion.

County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates have tainted the board's integrity in a blatant attempt to stack the commission with their anti-growth followers. They ousted pro-development lawyer Richard Lennon on ethics charges that are less than convincing and defied Commissioner Donald I. Dell's appeal for reasoned due process.

That's been characteristic of these two commissioners. In their first months, the pair expanded the planning body to seven members (from five) and they have named a majority of the current members. They refused to appoint a farmer to the body, breaking with long tradition. They are suing the Zoning Appeals Board for overturning planning commission rulings.

Political interference by Messrs. Brown and Yates with the independent planning board must stop. The planning body must stick to clearly defined criteria, guidelines and practice, even as it exercises independent judgment. The public interest demands that these storm clouds of distrust be swiftly swept away.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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