Managing growth in Manchester Carroll County: Population cap idea recognizes need to get a handle on development.

November 25, 1996

GROWTH IS AN ISSUE that consumes Carroll County, coloring virtually every decision made by its public officials. No area is immune from the obsession with this fundamental issue, whether one is for or against it.

So it is no surprise that the venerable town of Manchester (population 3,000-plus) is earnestly considering an official limit to the number of inhabitants -- before growth really takes off and gets out of control.

Town Manager David Warner proposes a population cap of 5,000 residents, to be included in revision of the municipality's master plan that is now under comprehensive review. Mayor Elmer C. Lippy and several council members support that proposed limit -- which is half the population level of 10,700 residents envisioned under the current master plan.

Manchester's concern is familiar: too many new residents will mean higher taxes for all to provide the additional public services required. That fear was realized in recent years, when the town had to overhaul its drinking water supply system because of growing demand.

Implicit in the push for the population cap is the belief that there will be no new industrial/commercial development to ease the residential tax burden. And the expectation that growth from neighboring Hampstead to the south will soon overflow into Manchester.

Imposing a cap on population has not been legally tested in Carroll; population goals are planning tools in master plans, not specific limits. A cap could face serious challenge in court, if adopted.

But just by halving the planned density of the town's development, without any legal force, Manchester is recognizing the need for new limits to growth. "This resolution is forming the snowball and giving it a push," Councilman Christopher B. D'Amario said. The town wants to manage its future growth before it is too late, and the demand for services from new residents overwhelms the budget.

Revamping the master plan is a long, tedious process. The aim is to manage development, but the net effect is too often a matter of compromised zoning decisions. Manchester's willingness to set a desirable population limit for town resources, and then review land use plans, seems the better way to proceed.

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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