Several projects OK'd by panel Planning commission narrowly approves medical center, condos

November 19, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The county planning commission narrowly approved a 108-unit retirement condominium, an 8,400-square-foot medical center, an 8,820-square-foot day care center and the final phase of a 112-lot subdivision in South Carroll yesterday, two months after a circuit judge challenged the commission's criteria for controlling growth.

Until Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. ruled Sept. 15 that the commission had used a flawed method to determine crowded schools when barring a Westminster subdivision, the planning panel had been been denying virtually all subdivision plans, especially those in fast-growing South Carroll, for more than a year.

Yesterday, the commission denied only one, a request for approval of a preliminary plan to create 80 residential lots and one business lot on 21 acres in Sykesville.

Assistant County Attorney Timothy A. Burke advised commission members that they could continue to use the criteria until a higher court has acted on their appeal of the Beck decision. At least three members did in the Sykesville case, citing inadequacy of area schools as their reason for rejecting the subdivision.

But a majority of commission members abandoned those criteria when voting to approve the last 23 lots of the 112-lot Hunters' Crossing subdivision in Sykesville, which the developer would not have been allowed to finish had the commission's criteria been applied to the project.

Ultimately, the 3-2 vote approving the final phase of the subdivision was based on more than Beck's decision.

Earlier planning commissions had approved the project, said David K. Bowersox, the Westminster attorney representing the owner and the developer. And the owner has paid $500,000 in impact fees, paid for obtaining wetlands permits and paid for a county consultant and other improvements along the way, Bowersox said.

"Most of the money is in the ground already. But in the process [of getting subdivision approval], the rules have changed and the politics of the commission have changed," he told the commission.

Bowersox said the developer has agreed to make a road connection that county officials say is essential and has been part of the county master plan for 20 years. A vote to approve the plan would result in "a huge public benefit," Bowersox said.

Commission member Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville was not convinced. Halting the project "is part of paying the price for other planning commissions having approved when they shouldn't have approved," Dannelly said.

Planning Director Philip J. Rovang, who enters commission discussions rarely and does so only to make technical comments, urged the commission "to look at the large picture" and approve the project.

"I am very concerned whenever there is only one access" to a subdivision, Rovang said. "Already, 85 lots have been approved, and there is only one way in and one way out. The developer would be putting in a second access," providing greater safety for parents who take their children to a nearby elementary school, Rovang said.

In addition, crowding at one school will be solved with the opening of a new school next year, Rovang said. As for the other crowded school, Liberty High, the staff projects that the additional homes would add three students, he said.

The commission approved the project 3-2, with Robin M. Frazier of Manchester, Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine and Maurice E. Wheatley of Eldersburg voting for it. Melvin E. Baile Jr. of New Windsor and Dannelly voted against it.

Baile joined Frazier and Wheatley in approving a day care center, a medical center and a 120-unit retirement community in Nell's Acres in Eldersburg that the commission had denied a year earlier.

Yesterday, Dannelly voted to deny it again, saying the plan "is for a basically a commercial area and is going to allow more commercialism in what is basically a residential area."

Dannelly said he also is concerned that the retirement center would strain the county's ambulance service and increase school enrollment if people moving into the retirement complex sold their homes to families with school-age children.

County Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he, too, was concerned about straining ambulance service in the area and also voted against the project.

In other action yesterday, the commission re-elected Hiltz as chairman and Rovang as secretary. Deborah L. Ridgely of Reisterstown was elected vice chairman.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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