Revisions urged for growth ordinance Commissioners may vote this week on proposal to control development

December 01, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll planners and business leaders are recommending the County Commissioners make minor changes to a proposed ordinance that would control growth.

The commissioners could vote on the ordinance as early as this week, but will consider recommendations from the Carroll County Planning and Zoning and Economic Development commissions, which reviewed the proposal last week.

Both panels discussed the adequate public facilities and concurrency management ordinance at length, but neither has taken a position on it. Each seeks only minor revisions and clarifications, including the exemption of all minor subdivisions from the ordinance.

The ordinance would link approval for residential building to existing schools, roads and emergency services. The county could make permits freely available in some areas but impose strict limits in fast-growth regions such as Finksburg, Westminster and South Carroll, which have crowded schools and roads and overburdened fire and police departments.

"This is a long-range tool," said County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "If existing services are inadequate, the developer needs to know it right then."

The county Planning Department would be "the front line of the ordinance," Brown said. Its staff would determine the adequacy of existing services if a proposed subdivision entered the development pipeline.

A developer would receive either a concurrency management certificate and proceed through the review process or, if the plan was denied, "a best estimate of when a relief facility is coming on line," said Planning Director Philip J. Rovang.

Rovang would base those estimates on the five-year capital improvements program (CIP), which covers the county's big-ticket items such as parks, roads, schools and other government buildings.

"The CIP drives development," Rovang said at the planning commission meeting Tuesday. "Development would be deferred until we are within two years of a relief facility. If the CIP has a relief facility, we can begin negotiating with the developer."

The commission has rejected several Westminster and South Carroll developments this year because of crowded schools.

"Residential growth is not paying its way," Brown said. "We now have more people showing up for dinner than we have dollars for food."

The next few years probably will not see much improvement in the school situation, particularly in South Carroll, the county's most populous area. An elementary school is under construction in Linton Springs, but the building will open near its 750 capacity in September. Liberty, the only high school in southeastern Carroll, relies on 12 portable classrooms to ease its crunch. A high school in South Carroll is in the planning stages but will not open before 2000.

"Within five years, there may be no need to regulate housing allocations," Rovang. "But the situation is dire. We have to resolve inadequacies through a capital improvements program."

Grant S. Dannelly, a planning commissioner, said he would add "affordable" to every mention of capital improvements in the ordinance.

"These improvements must all focus on what taxpayers can afford," Dannelly said.

The seven-member planning commission would also exclude all minor subdivisions -- three or fewer lots -- from the proposed ordinance. As written, it exempts minor subdivisions only in the agriculture zone.

"Minors are the livelihood of small builders," Dannelly said. "It is important that they stay in business."

While Planning Commissioner Deborah L. Ridgely called the proposal "a good, orderly means to have development flow through," two of her colleagues were skeptical.

Maurice E. Wheatley asked for a thorough review of the economic aspects.

"This [would] have a terrific financial impact on the county," Wheatley said. "Does the county have the right to say what a person can do with his land?"

Robin M. Frazier, who frequently votes for property owners, said the proposal lacks checks and balances.

"The ordinance takes a good idea -- connecting adequate facilities with the CIP -- and messes it up," Frazier said. "It gives government an inordinate amount of control."

The Economic Development Commission expects the ordinance to face legal challenges and will ask an independent attorney for an evaluation. The planning panel has forwarded several revisions to the commissioners.

The EDC circulated the draft ordinance among its 27 members, who also would like a financial impact analysis. Although the proposal would exempt commercial and industrial development from adequate facilities review, business leaders said anything that detracts from available housing can hurt the economy.

"All we are looking for is predictability," said Louna Primm, EDC chairwoman.

The county is not saying "no growth," but making government do what it can afford, Brown said. The document shows the county's intent to balance growth with strong capital improvements.

"There is no stop sign in this ordinance," Brown said. "At worst, you see a 10 mph in crowded areas."

Although growth in the county's eight municipalities is exempt from the ordinance, the area mayors are also expected to take a stand on the proposal after their meeting this month.

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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