Dress rehearsal precedes meeting on growth bill Public to receive information Monday on adequate facilities law

December 31, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll department heads held a dress rehearsal for the County Commissioners yesterday on the latest version of a bill intended to manage the county's residential growth.

The two-hour meeting on a proposed adequate facilities law was a prologue to a "public information meeting" on the 14-page bill that will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Westminster Senior Center.

Although Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates expressed concerns about some clauses, the bill has the approval of local bankers, developers, and homebuilders and is likely to pass with slight, if any revision.

Developers won a major concession Dec. 11 when they and the commissioners ended months of public feuding and agreed to strike a portion of the bill that homebuilders had deemed the most onerous.

Initially, the bill would have become retroactive to Oct. 25, 1997, and would have barred owners of recorded lots from building homes on them if the lots were in parts of the county that failed to pass adequate-facilities tests for schools, roads and public safety.

But the latest and likely final draft of the bill follows current policy and allows owners of recorded lots to get building permits whenever they want. The bill would take effect on the date of its passage.

The decision to exempt recorded lots and accept four other developer proposals is based on a five-point memorandum of understanding that Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown worked out privately with Carroll County Bank and Trust Co. President Michael Oster, land use attorney Clark R. Shaffer, key county department heads, and Susan S. Davies, government relations liaison for the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

Dell and Yates, who were unaware of those meetings until after the memorandum was made public, expressed concerns yesterday about whether the bill would still do what they want -- time the county's growth to coincide with the construction of schools, roads and public works, and public safety projects needed to support that growth.

The problem is this: The bill calls for a six-year, 6,000-unit limit on residential building permits. But the number of recorded lots that are exempt from the bill and could be built upon is 6,429.

Department heads sought to assure Dell and Yates that the number is "theoretical" and that only a fraction of those lots would be built upon. Determining how many of those lots would be built upon "is more art than science," Marlene Conaway, deputy planning director, told the commissioners. But it is not likely to be more than 10 percent annually, she and J. Michael Evans, public works director, said.

Brown, who is away and was absent from yesterday's meeting, had cited similar figures Dec. 11, saying: "We don't risk much at all from exempting these lots" since they will only add about 150 lots a year to the total.

Meanwhile, Dell and Yates expressed concern that the bill specifically exempts new residential construction in Carroll's eight municipalities. New homes built there would be included in the county's 6,000-lot ceiling.

If the municipalities go "hog wild," Yates said, that could preclude residential construction in the rest of the county. If so, that would mean that landowners in the county don't have the same property rights as those in the municipalities, Dell said.

Planning Director Philip J. Rovang said he doubted that such a thing would happen, given the demographics of the county. The greatest municipal growth is occurring is Westminster, he said. Sykesville, which is in fast-growing South Carroll, has only about 65 residential lots available, he said.

Dell and Yates also expressed concern about whether developers of small projects -- defined by a builder at a public hearing in November as "12 to 15 homes in a good year, two to four in a bad one" -- would fare as well under the bill as large-scale developers.

Small developers had objected to a clause in the bill that would allow the county to issue permits to builders on a first-come, first-serve basis in areas where facilities are deemed suitable for growth.

Rovang said he felt that objection had been removed now that HTC the bill provides an exemption for recorded lots. Homebuilders' liaison Davies said that is her understanding also.

"If not, we'll hear about it Jan. 5" at the public information hearing and make whatever adjustment the commissioners deem appropriate, Rovang said.

The commissioners expect to enact the bill in mid- to late January.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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