Planners tour sites eyed for rezoning Calls for increasing industrial areas drawing opposition

January 18, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county's planning commission got a firsthand look last week at Carroll's future -- at least the future that economic development officials envision.

Carroll County is reworking its master plan, its blueprint for growth, and officials are looking hard for more industrial property to balance residential development that has strained county services.

The seven-member planning commission toured 10 sites Friday that the county's Economic Development Commission (EDC) has recommended for industrial use. But even before planners make recommendations on rezoning nearly 1,400 acres, opposition is forming.

First, nearly all the sites lie within the Liberty Reservoir watershed and are subject to state and federal wetlands regulations.

Four properties are in Westminster, but the city has said it lacks the water and sewer capacity for major industrial development.

The municipality is also refusing to extend its water and sewer lines to a fifth site in Finksburg. The 471-acre property on Bethel Road is the largest of the sites and is greatly favored for development because of its proximity to Route 140.

"Westminster is putting restraints on what we are supposed to do," said Maurice E. Wheatley, planning commission member.

The city owns and operates its water and sewer systems and can disallow any expansion, said K. Marlene Conaway, deputy planning director.

"We cannot force Westminster to extend its lines," she said. "We may have to build our own water facility."

But county officials say building another water and sewer system would be prohibitively expensive.

Public utilities are a great draw for businesses considering relocating and vital to getting state grants for projects, Conaway said, especially under Maryland's Smart Growth guidelines that are designed to prevent sprawl.

"We are dependent on state grants to get industry to the county," Conaway said. "The need for public water and sewer is even greater since Smart Growth."

Any land zoned industrial as of Jan. 1, 1997, can qualify for state aid under the Smart Growth legislation enacted last spring. But, while most of Carroll's proposed industrial land is zoned for agriculture, it lies within community planning areas, making it eligible for state funding.

jTC In the Freedom area of south Carroll, the county's most populous region with 27,000 residents, the EDC targeted five sites. The county owns the Freedom utility system, but residents oppose more development until major roads are improved.

"Most state highways in the county are a problem, and we are so dependent on the state road system that it is hurting our ability to attract industry," said Conaway. "The county may need to consider putting money into state roads."

Philip J. Rovang, county planning director, said the state will have to demand local contributions to make costly road improvements, such as widening Route 32 in south Carroll or Route 97 in Westminster.

"The sites in Freedom are already served with public water, and sewer received the highest rating for industrial development," Conaway said. "Marketing the sites is primary. We must choose the best places that will have the most success with marketing."

Friday's daylong tour gave the commission "a hands-on understanding of what impact our decisions will have, and we can see the compatibility of the land for what we are considering," said Thomas G. Hiltz, commission chairman.

It also gave the commission a chance to look at properties adjacent to the sites, where landowners also are considering rezoning petitions.

The master plan revision offers property owners unusual opportunities to rezone, Wheatley said. Rezoning usually involves an arduous and often unsuccessful process of proving a mistake in the original zoning or a change in the character of a neighborhood.

"It is feasible to get as much done with these master plan revisions as possible," Wheatley said.

Grant S. Dannelly, his commission colleague, said he wants guarantees that any land rezoned will remain industrial, no matter how much pressure comes from the commercial sector.

"If it is zoned industrial, it must stay industrial," Dannelly said. "If it sits there for 1,000 years, so be it."

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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