Board rejects request to rezone 3-acre parcel Couple sought to build residence for son

July 29, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners, sitting as the Carroll Zoning Board, refused yesterday to rezone a small parcel adjacent to Union Bridge so that a local couple could build a house there for their son.

Paul L. and Harriet G. Higgins had asked the board to change the zoning from industrial to conservation on 3 acres of their 28-acre property so that their son -- who works with them -- could live near their horse-fencing business.

Residential homes are not a permitted use in industrial zones. But one house for every 3 acres is allowed in conservation zones.

The Higgins property had been zoned for industrial use in a 1991 comprehensive rezoning.

To change that, the Higgins family would have had to prove that the character of the neighborhood has changed significantly or that the Zoning Board made a mistake when it zoned the property for industrial use in 1991.

"The presumption [in court] is that the comprehensive rezoning was proper," Assistant County Attorney Timothy A. Burke told the Zoning Board. "It is very difficult to prove otherwise."

The county planning commission recommended approval of the request. The county planning department recommended that it be denied.

Although Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted with Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates to deny the zoning change request, he appeared to do so reluctantly.

"My concern is how we look to business" by turning down a request from a family involved in an agricultural enterprise, Dell said. The commissioners are still smarting from an anti-business label given them in 1996 after they imposed interim measures that slowed residential development. Dell had voted against those measures.

One of the things making yesterday's vote a "tough decision," Dell said, is that the board was being asked to change the zoning from business use to residential use to help a small business.

"I would like to accommodate the business, but tomorrow the business may not be there," Dell said.

Much of the discussion yesterday centered on the fact that before the 1991 rezoning, the property was in a so-called transitional zone and had been zoned for residential use.

"This particular piece adjoins residential, conservation and industrial, and juts out into industrial," Dell said.

The argument for mistake was that the property "should have been at least a buffer" between industrial and residential uses, said Brown, who was unconvinced by the argument.

"One of the reasons for the mistake-change doctrine is to make it somewhat difficult" to rezone property on a piecemeal basis between comprehensive rezonings, Brown said. "It makes it more of a community-based standard. I don't think they have met that standard."

Yates agreed. "I can't see where they've proven mistake or change," he said.

"I have some sympathy with what they want to do," but the buyers knew when they bought the property on New Year's Eve 1996 that "the chances were almost nil that the zoning would be changed," Yates said.

The fact that Higgins and his wife bought the property after it had been zoned for industrial use was "an important element" in his decision to deny the request, Brown said.

After the vote, Westminster attorney Clark R. Shaffer, speaking on behalf of the Higgins family, said, "My client is disappointed by the commissioners' decision."

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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