Planners suggest building schools They urge curbs on Hampstead, S. Carroll, Westminster growth

November 22, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Concerned about school crowding in Hampstead, Westminster and South Carroll, county planners have recommended development in those areas be limited until new schools are built.

Their suggestions, based on projected school enrollment figures, are outlined in a 36-page report that was forwarded this month to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners.

The report details development trends and evaluates the condition of roads, schools and emergency services. It will be used by county officials to evaluate Carroll's six-year capital spending plan, which is under review.

"We found there was no overcapacity on anything other than schools" in Hampstead, Westminster and South Carroll, said Philip J. Rovang, county planning director. Even in those areas, development will be allowed to continue, he said.

"We're suggesting that growth in those areas be throttled down, not stopped," Rovang said.

Such a move would ensure that builders' fees are paid to the county to help cover the cost of school construction.

The county has budgeted about $15.5 million to design and build a Hampstead-area middle school, expected to open during fiscal 2002. A South Carroll high school also is planned. It is expected to cost nearly $28.5 million.

The Board of Education has also requested funding for a new Westminster high school and middle school. The high school would cost about $29.4 million; the middle school would cost more than $15 million.

The seven-member planning commission is expected to discuss the school board's funding requests Dec. 2, a day after updated enrollment figures are released.

However, the new numbers may not have much impact on the planning panel. Two commission members, Maurice E. Wheatley and Grant S. Dannelly, have said they think building the Westminster schools may be a waste of taxpayer money.

State law gives the planning panel the power to stop construction of any public building it feels is inconsistent with the county master plan. Only the county commissioners could override such a recommendation.

If the Westminster schools are scratched from the six-year capital plan, the report prepared by the county planners would have to be revised, said Marlene Conaway, deputy planning director.

Revisions might also be made if school enrollment figures are different from the numbers that had been projected in September, when the report was drafted. A growth-control law passed by the county commissioners March 5 requires the planning department to prepare the report annually.

The law limits residential development to 1,000 lots a year and gives the commissioners power to direct housing developments to areas where schools, roads and public services are adequate and restrict it elsewhere.

Under the planning department's recommendations, development in South Carroll would be limited to 150 to 200 new lots per year for each of the next two fiscal years, until the South Carroll high school opens.

In Hampstead, development would be limited to 75 new lots per year for each of the next two fiscal years, until the middle school opens there. In Westminster, a maximum of 350 new lots could be developed in fiscal 2001 and 2002, until the county seat's high school and middle school open.

Plans that have been approved for development would not be affected by the restrictions, Rovang said.

If plans to build the Westminster schools are shelved, the constraints on housing construction would be changed to ensure that residential development does not cause a hardship for the area's public facilities.

In the past, when schools and roads were not keeping pace with development, residential housing construction nearly ground to a halt.

Builders, developers and lenders complained that the county's residential subdivision process was unpredictable, making it impossible to know whether developers would be allowed to finish projects they had started.

Those who felt the planning commission treated them unfairly -- by halting their plans -- appealed to the county Board of Zoning Appeals. More often than not, the board overturned planning commission decisions.

The growth-control measure is supposed to be evaluated each spring by the county commissioners, who could choose to rescind the law at any time.

Commissioner-elect Robin Bartlett Frazier, a former planning commission member, has said publicly that she would like to rescind the law.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, elected to a third term, wants to amend the law, but keep it on the books. He and departing Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown voted to adopt the legislation.

Julia Walsh Gouge, who will begin her third term as commissioner Dec. 7, has said she would scrutinize the law after a year.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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