Mettle quits planning commission Vice chairman cites health, frustration with growth issues

3rd resignation in 8 months

Relationship with Yates had deteriorated

March 11, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Citing health problems and a growing frustration at an inability to manage residential growth, county planning commission Vice Chairman Joseph H. Mettle has resigned.

Mettle, 63, a two-year veteran of the development review panel, is the third member to leave voluntarily in eight months, the second to resign for health reasons.

"The long hours of the Planning and Zoning Commission have aggravated my health problem to the point of requiring complete rest and or surgery," Mettle told County Commissioner Richard T. Yates in a resignation letter mailed to Yates' home Friday.

Mettle, an Eldersburg resident, indicated that he's also considering moving, perhaps to Westminster or to West Virginia.

Yates appointed Mettle to the commission in fall 1995 and until last month was one of Mettle's closest confidants.

The two became estranged when Yates and Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted to cut off county funding for night planning commission meetings -- sessions that supporters say encourage citizen participation.

The relationship between the two deteriorated further Feb. 20 when Yates appointed a longtime political friend to the county's Board of Zoning Appeals.

Both moves struck at issues dear to Mettle.

He had pushed for more citizen participation in the development process and was instrumental in getting the county to allow residents a voice at Subdivision Advisory Committee meetings, a preliminary stage in the development review process.

But after giving residents that opportunity, Yates and Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted to end county funding of the planning commission's night meetings, saying they were no longer needed.

Mettle disagreed, saying that many residents can only attend night meetings. Subdivision advisory committee meetings are held during the day.

Yates' appointment

But the issue that really hurt, he says, was Yates' appointment of Hobart D. Wolf Jr. to the Board of Zoning Appeals over South Carroll activist Carolyn Fairbank.

Mettle, who views Wolf as pro-development, was already frustrated because the Board of Zoning Appeals had overturned several planning commission decisions to deny residential subdivisions in areas with crowded schools.

Mettle was so incensed by the Wolf appointment that he met with a group of South Carroll residents March 3 planning a "Dump Dell and Yank Yates" campaign in the 1998 election.

Mettle said he mailed his resignation letter to Yates' home rather than the county office building as a courtesy.

"Dick and I are still friends -- I think -- and I wanted the letter to be personal," Mettle said. "He appointed me, and I wanted him to find out from me rather than letting everybody else in the office building find out first."

Like most people close to the commission, Yates had no inkling that Mettle was planning to quit.

"I'm sorry that he's in bad health, apparently," Yates said. "It's a shame. I'm sorry to see him go. Apart from what I read in the papers, he never said there was anything awry between him and myself."

Mettle, who was home in bed yesterday with a chronic back problem, said he would have endured the physical pain he suffered at long meetings had he felt he was making progress in his attempt to slow development.

Baile shocked

Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville, the planning commission member whose views seem closest to Mettle's, refused to comment.

However, planning commission member Melvin E. Baile Jr. of New Windsor said he was shocked. "I have relied on Joe to give me the heartbeat of South Carroll," Baile said. "It's very interesting and curious that this has occurred. I'm just speechless."

South Carroll activist Wayne B. Schuster, who was a likely candidate for a planning commission spot until he took a job as a municipal planner in Rhode Island, praised Mettle for being in touch with South Carroll residents.

"I'm really saddened for the county," Schuster said. "Joe's tried to be a champion for finding a balance between residential growth and fiscal responsibility so the citizens don't have to pay the way."

Mettle said he hopes activist Fairbank will succeed him on the commission, but he doesn't know if that is likely.

"I thought I knew Dick Yates' mind and commitment" to slow development, Mettle said. "I love him dearly, but I don't know what he will do. I'm worried."

Commission Chairman Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine said he feels no urgency to fill Mettle's vacancy because alternate Deborah L. Ridgely of Finksburg has been voting on most issues before the seven-member commission.

Paid $90

Commission members are paid $90 for one daytime meeting a month.

The decision about a replacement will be made by the County Commissioners, Hiltz said.

David T. Duree of New Windsor resigned as chairman of the planning commission in August to devote more time to his business.

Zeno M. Fisher Jr. of Westminster resigned July 24, citing health reasons.

"Turmoil is our middle name, almost," Hiltz said after hearing of Mettle's announcement.

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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