Hazards of public service Carroll County: Escalating stakes, intensity of zoning decisions take toll on board members.

March 13, 1997

PERHAPS THE Carroll County commissioners should affix the following cautionary label to appointments of members of zoning and planning boards:

"Warning: Service on this official body could be hazardous to your health."

Of course, anyone who accepts a position on the Planning and Zoning Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals already knows that the workload and tension level is great.

Emotions of citizens are high, the financial stakes are high, and the frustrations of developers and opponents alike are high.

This is no place for quiet, obscure public service, a genteel monthly session of fixed agendas and routine decisions. The toll in time, wear and tear is all too obvious.

Joseph H. Mettle found the rigors too great this month, resigning after 1 1/2 years on the Planning and Zoning Commission. Long hours of strenuous sessions aggravated his bad back, the commission vice chairman said.

But frustrations over his inability to sufficiently slow growth in Carroll added to the physical stress. So did his being passed over for the new School Facilities Commission and recent painful differences on growth with his one-time patron, Commissioner Richard T. Yates.

Two other members of the planning body have resigned in the past eight months. Zeno M. Fischer Jr. quit last July, for health reasons. David T. Duree, then commission chairman, resigned in July citing job demands, but also amid a heated controversy over conflicts of interest of commission members.

The battle over replacement of Joseph A. Zester on the Board of Zoning Appeals last month badly frayed public tempers, and will certainly increase the pressure on that panel's members. Large landowner Hobart D. Wolf Jr. got the nod over South Carroll slow-growth activist Carolyn Fairbank. That appointment is no mandate for accelerated development (contrary to Mr. Mettle's view), but it will raise the public profile of the appeals body and expose its decisions to greater scrutiny.

The strains and stresses of serving on these zoning panels will not lessen. It is hard to make difficult decisions on growth -- and to accept that one's individual opinions will not always prevail. Those who accept the nomination should be forewarned.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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