Residents select sites to preserve Development foes and advocates take Sacred Places tour

October 19, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After months of bickering and opposition from farm groups, South Carroll residents finally took a hard look at what should be preserved in the county's fastest-growing area.

Heated debate between slow-growth activists and farmers who want to develop their land nearly scuttled the Sacred Places workshop when clashes between the two sides led the Environmental Protection Agency to pull its $10,000 grant from the project two months ago.

But Anne Pearson, conference organizer, pared the cost to $7,000, most of which came from the Maryland Greenways Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

She lured nationally known planners, about 60 residents and county officials to the conference held Friday and yesterday.

On a bus tour of the 30-square-mile Eldersburg area Friday, the group tried to identify important wooded areas, open space and landmarks.

Kathy Blanco-Losada, a resident who helped coordinate the workshop, asked participants to keep an open mind.

"What does 'town center' mean to us?" she asked. "What do we want to keep, and what do we want to throw away?"

Dick Hull, a developer and a member of several citizens groups, pointed out subdivisions he had built.

"I hope a few turn out to be sacred," he said.

Members of the Carroll Landowners Association have opposed the concept from the start.

"To us, this sounds like another tool to take away our rights," Flo Breitenother, a Woodbine farmer, said when the proposal was first made.

But Breitenother and several other association members went along for the bus ride.

"We want to represent all viewpoints here today," said Pat Lambert, vice chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Council, which is revising the county's master plan for growth. "We want to hear all views with an open mind."

Only a guide

Even if the group reaches consensus on sites in the area, the conference recommendations would be only a guide for county planners, organizers say.

Participants readily identified favorite places, including the Liberty Reservoir watershed, the wooded corridors that line back roads and the many churches that predate the Civil War.

They also determined the characteristics most cherished in their community. Even the strip shopping centers have a place, many said.

"The mall is where we see people by chance," Lambert said.

Randolph T. Hester, a partner in Community Development by Design in Berkeley, Calif., gave a presentation on the decade-long revitalization of Roanoke Island and Manteo, N.C., a seacoast area that is about the size of South Carroll.

"Manteo had lost its center," Hester said. "It grew bigger without attention to its community within."

Manteo residents and officials worked together on a land-use plan in much the way volunteers in Carroll are revising a master plan that has guided local growth for 30 years.

"It is important for people to participate in the planning process over a long time and think about all the details of the plan," Hester said. "Ongoing community participation preserves special places and leads to economic growth."

Sprawl exemplified

Eldersburg's population has nearly tripled to 27,000 since the original master plan was developed. It is not a town but a growth area whose residents complain they have little say in county government decisions.

Subdivision after subdivision has gobbled up the lush farmland that attracted residents. Eldersburg is often mentioned as an example of sprawl and the antithesis of the Smart Growth initiative approved last spring by the state legislature, slow-growth proponents said.

To many residents, commercial development seems to appear unannounced and overnight, further clogging the main roads and crowding local schools.

Most participants agreed they must make every effort to relieve congestion on Liberty Road and Route 32, state highways that cut through Eldersburg and serve as its main arteries to the surrounding metropolitan area.

"There has been a schizophrenic attitude of development on Liberty Road -- houses, businesses and no center," Lambert said.

But Peggy and Bill Schneider, who have farmed 250 acres along Gaither Road for 42 years, see things differently.

They have planned for years to finance their retirement by selling their land.

"We have dealt with tree ordinances, impact fees and moratoriums. The county has taken us out of the public water and sewer area," Bill Schneider said. "The county has made it too expensive to develop property. There was value once, but now there is only dirt."

Lambert said she hoped the workshop would help bridge the gulf between slow-growth activists and farmers eager to sell their land for development.

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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