Projected growth alternatives sparking debate on county planning for 20 years Need for industry, schools considered

March 30, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Slow-growth advocates say a 40 percent population increase projected by the Carroll planning office over the next two decades is more than the county can absorb.

Instead, neighborhood activists say, the county should aim for a 25 percent increase -- which would add about 36,000 people to Carroll's current population of 145,000.

But a rate of growth that slow would be "financially catastrophic," according to members of the homebuilding industry.

At the center of the controversy is a county Planning Department report sent to Baltimore-based Tischler & Associates this month.

The county wants the consulting firm to estimate the cost and amount of roads, schools, water, sewer and other services that would be needed to accommodate each of four population projections -- 180,380 people by 2020; 199,367 by 2012; 199,367 by 2012 but with a larger commercial tax base; and 199,367 by the year 2020.

Although still in the theoretical stage, the four growth alternatives are eliciting passions.

Finksburg resident Neil Ridgely complains that residents should have been allowed to participate in development of a population alternative that calls for creating a development corridor along Route 140 with an average density of four dwelling units per acre. Nearly a third of those units would be townhouses and apartments.

Ridgely -- speaking for himself, not in his role as Hampstead town manager -- said he is not ready to say whether that is a good idea or a bad one, but he thinks Finksburg residents should have a say in the matter first.

"If you enter someone's home, you knock on the door, not knock it down," Ridgely said. "Before making assumptions, it's good to check in with the people who live there."

Ridgely is also concerned because one proposal would add 1,566 acres of industrial land to the Finksburg planning area, along with homes, that would be served by public water and sewer. If that happens, the strain on the water supply would be too great, he said.

"We're near Liberty Reservoir," he said. "This would have a direct impact on a watershed we've agreed to protect."

Ridgely would like to see Finksburg residents and business owners form a planning council similar to the one formed last summer in South Carroll.

South Carroll activist Wayne B. Schuster -- a founding member of Freedom District Planning Council -- said he is very concerned about every alternative except the one that limits population projections to 180,000 in the year 2020.

Schuster, who will leave Carroll next month to take a job as a municipal planner in Rhode Island, said Carroll's Planning Department artificially set the "population target" at 200,000 people to appease developers eyeing South Carroll.

"It will basically double the the population there now," he said. "I am extremely skeptical that doubling the South Carroll population is a proper goal."

The requirement that 30 percent of new residential construction be townhouses and apartments is "an idealistic look at affordability," Schuster said.

What concerns Schuster most, he said, is that the population projections do not mention specific schools, roads, public utilities and public safety facilities that would be needed to support population increases.

"I would have liked to have seen some standards per household or population," he said. "I don't see how based on this report you can evaluate school requirements and needs for water, sewer and emergency services" without setting those standards.

Gregory G. Dorsey, president of the local chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland, said the 200,000 population projection used in three of the four alternatives is not an artificial number.

Dorsey, who worked on a land-use subcommittee that is helping to draft a county master plan, said the 200,000-person projection is based on state analysis of the county's historic growth patterns.

Also, the county's growth is "more complex" than looking at population projections, Dorsey said. "We need to look at the big picture." And for Dorsey, that means looking at the economy and the role that business plays in enhancing the county's quality of life with jobs and tax revenue.

Dorsey favors the growth alternative that calls for the county to derive 15 percent of its revenue -- rather than the current 12 percent -- from commercial development.

He said a mix of housing types ranging from luxury homes to rental housing is necessary to attract and keep businesses. If development is restricted, land values will rise and poorer residents will be displaced because they no longer could afford to live in the county, Dorsey said.

It is natural that most of the county's growth would occur in community planning areas, Dorsey said, because most homeowners want to live close to shops and services.

Like Schuster, Dorsey agrees that infrastructure -- schools, roads, water and sewer systems -- is a priority.

"The county has to be ready with infrastructure," Dorsey said, "because if it is not there, business will leave and the people will follow."

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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