The winds of another growth battle began blowing through the county planning commission yesterday. They were only zephyrs, but they swirled around the most sacrosanct of Carroll County endeavors -- economic development.
The issue yesterday was whether to approve the site plan for a gas station, convenience store and carwash on Route 32 in South Carroll.
In a few months, the issue will be whether to approve a site plan for a shopping center across the street that would include restaurants, a department store and a 14-screen theater with stadium seating.
Planning commission member Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville alluded to the proposed shopping center yesterday when urging the seven-member panel to reject not just the site plan for the gas station, but also the concept, calling it "appalling."
"Here we are putting up more spot development on a road that has some of the worst traffic in the county, and we haven't even put in the 14 theaters yet," Dannelly said. "The citizens have made all kinds of protests. I am very disturbed by the fact that we're putting more strip gas stations along Route 32."
Planning commission member Maurice E. Wheatley of Eldersburg expressed concern because the deputy fire chief in South Carroll has called the water supply inadequate while the county bureau of utilities has called it adequate. "I'd like them to get together" and agree, Wheatley said. "It scares me a little bit that we might be putting up a gas station with an inadequate water supply."
Eldersburg resident Donna Slack, who lives a few hundred feet from the site, said the possibility of accidents bothers her. Cars making left turns onto Bartholow Road would be vulnerable to cars coming down a hill with a blind curve a short distance away, she said. And students walking to nearby Liberty High School would be endangered, she said.
Jack Tevis, owner and developer of the property, plans to build a sidewalk from the convenience store to the high school and to grade an adjoining site to improve the line of sight for traffic coming down the hill from the school.
Roberta Windham, another nearby Eldersburg resident, asked the planning commission to require Tevis to do the grading before allowing him to proceed with the rest of the project to ensure that the line of sight is safe.
Wheatley, a former surveyor and construction inspector, said traffic from the gas station onto Bartholow Road would have four to five seconds to get out. The developer should build a short entrance and exit lane on Route 32 that would force vehicles to use that road exclusively, he said.
The commission told the county planning staff and the developer to explore alternatives to the Bartholow exit and return with an analysis indicating why the current site plan or an alternative would be preferred.
Tevis took the delay in stride. "It's part of the process," he said. "The people have the right to be heard, and I want to support that right. We'll take the feedback and do what we have been asked to do, look at how we can help make the site plan better or provide alternatives."
Until Tevis and his engineers were sent back to the drawing board after 18 months of work, commercial developers had had their way with the county bureaucracy.
Twelve percent of Carroll's tax base is industrial and commercial, the lowest in the Baltimore metropolitan area -- and the county has been trying to improve that proportion. Because Carroll cannot offer the kind of infrastructure that many competing jurisdictions can, the commissioners sought a different lure: no red tape.
No commercial or industrial project has been too small to be sped through the county's site review process. Even a drive-in ice cream shop in Eldersburg was given favored treatment, over the protests of some residents.
The County Commissioners imposed restrictions, meanwhile, that lowered residential growth considerably but exempted commercial and industrial projects from the county's growth-control law.
Things started to go awry when the commissioners' slow-growth appointees to the planning commission seemed to want to look just as hard at commercial development as they had been looking at residential projects.
Rezoning proposal rejected
Asked in February by the County Commissioners and the Economic Development Commission to endorse the rezoning of 1,069 mostly rural acres for industrial and commercial use throughout the county, the planning panel refused.
The development commission had spent two years studying the properties. The planning panel took 77 minutes to vote down all but 90 acres. Among the rejected properties was a 172-acre county-owned site next to the Carroll County Air Business Center in Westminster.
An adjoining 14-acre site was also rejected, but the owner asked Westminster to annex it. Yesterday, the city asked the planning panel to waive the current zoning, which is agricultural, and allow the city to change the zoning to industrial so that a mill and cabinet shop can be built on the site. Otherwise, the city would have to wait five years to rezone the property.
Dannelly and Deborah L. Ridgely did not want to provide the waiver, but three other planning panel members voted to recommend that the County Commissioners grant it -- which they are likely to do.
Pub Date: 4/22/98