Planning commission rejects addition to Eldersburg Estates But activist fears ruling may be overturned by zoning appeals board

September 17, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission has turned down a proposal to build the final three sections of Eldersburg Estates, citing crowded schools and a rule that allows developers to record only 50 lots annually per subdivision.

With Carrolltowne Elementary and Liberty High schools well above their enrollment capacities, the commission voted 3-1 yesterday to deny approval to Masonry Contractors Inc. for 63 lots in the subdivision at MacBeth Way and Tydings Road,

But one South Carroll activist said the ruling also should have considered the adequacy of fire and emergency services, which would have strengthened the commission's decision in case of appeal.

Carolyn Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council, a citizens group, asked the commission to consider the problems of the Sykesville-Freedom Volunteer Fire Department, which serves the county's most populous area.

The department has complained for years that dwindling numbers of volunteers and insufficient funding hamper its ability to deliver services quickly.

The planning commission's decision will likely go to the county Board of Zoning Appeals, which will hear arguments Tuesday on the denial in August of a previously considered section of the development.

"Most of your denials of subdivisions are being appealed to the BZA, and the BZA is overturning your good judgment," Fairbank told the commission. "With the addition of another standard, it will be more difficult to prove, as is being attempted, that this board is making arbitrary and capricious decisions regarding denials of subdivisions."

The county's Fire Protection Services certified on Sept. 4 that there were adequate fire protection and emergency services for the final three sections of Eldersburg Estates.

But Fairbank said yesterday that the county agency was relying on 18-year-old information in its review. She showed documents from the preliminary approval in 1979 of the entire 210-lot subdivision, including a statement from the Sykesville Fire Department calling services inadequate, which she said indicates that the only existing review is outdated.

"The county has eliminated professional input from local fire departments," Fairbank said. "No one knows the situation better than they do."

She said the county ignored the Fire Department's advice 18 years ago and failed to consult it during its most recent review.

Grant S. Dannelly, planning commissioner, said he was startled that an 18-year-old approval would stand and called the county's system of development approval flawed.

"We have to pull in the time frames," Dannelly said. "There should be a one-year limit on preliminary approval."

He asked if the county had done any research into 1997 conditions.

Bryan VanFossen, the county's assistant fire protection engineer, said his department had done more research, but conceded that it had not consulted the Volunteer Fire Department.

"We always look at the preliminary certification and then do research," said Van Fossen. "The latest statistics say the fire services are adequate."

The commission gave preliminary approval to Eldersburg Estates on May 25, 1979, disregarding opposition from the Sykesville Volunteer Fire Department, which said then that "emergency protection does not exist at this time due to lack of manpower and a strained financial condition."

The plan has remained on file with the county ever since. In the past seven years, officials have approved five sections -- 123 lots -- in the subdivision. The planning commission turned down a sixth section of 24 lots in August.

As a subdivision moves toward final approval, the county does not request any additional assessment from local fire departments. Instead, it relies on its own engineers. The final step in the approval process for a development -- though it may come years after preliminary approval was granted -- does not require input from any of the 14 local fire departments.

"Maybe we need that step," VanFossen said.

Fairbank said the subdivision approval process should be revamped.

"The final certification forms for fire and emergency services have simply been rubber stamped for quite some time," she said.

VanFossen said his office reviews available data, but that often it is insufficient. He says the volunteer firefighters have not provided statistics to show that they are understaffed and underfunded.

"Nobody has produced the numbers to show slow responses or no responses," he said. "We review. We do not just rubber stamp."

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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