Plan for golf course on farm gains support

Most residents back proposal at hearing

some fear precedent

July 29, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

A landmark South Carroll rezoning request, which county planners fear will swing the door wide open for more development of farmland, won overwhelming support from local residents at a crowded public hearing yesterday.

More than 25 residents asked the county commissioners to allow the Rash family to rezone 145 acres of farmland west of Route 97 for an upscale golf course community with 50 homes.

But a small, vocal group of neighbors opposed the plan, warning that if approved the proposal would bring an end to agricultural life in South Carroll by creating a powerful precedent for farm owners seeking to rezone their property for residential development.

"How could they possible say no to anyone else in the area who wants their land rezoned?" said Douglas Iliof, one of three South Carroll residents who objected to the rezoning during the three-hour hearing at the County Office Building in Westminster.

It is unlikely those concerns would cause problems for the Rash family's request, which the Board of Commissioners expects to vote on within 30 days.

Two of the three county commissioners have indicated they back the proposal.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted in favor of the proposal as a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission in May and has indicated he would do the same when it comes before the Board of County Commissioners. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said yesterday she was leaning toward voting for the proposal.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge declined to discuss how she might vote. She said she was impressed by the plan and the support it received, but was concerned about whether the rezoning would mean more development.

"What would it do to the master plan?" she asked. "We have to look at it very carefully."

Although Frazier said she was concerned the case could establish a legal precedent, she didn't expect it would flood the county with rezoning cases.

"I don't think everyone will jump in and say they want to rezone their land," she said.

The Rash brothers -- Claude, 61, Edwin, 72, and Glenn, 68 -- have been trying to rezone their farm for nearly a decade, saying they need the money so they can retire. The 400-acre farm was once the headquarters for the brothers' dairy operations and later the center of a 3,000-acre corn, soybean and hay business.

But farming in South Carroll has become impossible, the brothers say, as more and more people move into the county.

To win rezoning approval, the Rashes must prove that a mistake was made in the original zoning of their property or that a substantial change has occurred in the character of the neighborhood.

Testifying yesterday before the commissioners, Richard L. Hull, owner of the civil engineering firm that designed the golf course community, said both criteria have been met.

Hull said the county erred in 1978 when it rezoned farmland just north of the Rash farm for the Streamwood development, but kept the Rash property in the agriculture zone.

"There was no attention given to the adjacent property," Hull said. "It's very difficult to consider that regional planning."

He said residents moving into South Carroll have significantly changed the neighborhood, making it difficult for farmers to move farm equipment on congested county roads. Hull also said the Rash family's plans were in line with the county's master plan.

Under the farm's agriculture zoning, 24 homes or duplexes could be developed on the 400-acre property -- not significantly different than the 50-home upscale community being proposed, Hull said.

Hull's analysis of the rezoning case did not square with a report of the county planning staff, which indicated no evidence of a mistake in zoning. The planning staff also said the increase in traffic and growth in population are consistent with the county master plan.

The Rash brothers tried to put their land in the state Agricultural Land Preservation Program in 1982, but rejected the state's offer for development rights because they said it was too low.

In 1990, they sought to rezone 360 acres for 108 homes and a golf course. The Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners denied the request, ruling that no change in the neighborhood or mistake in zoning had been made. The Rashes submitted a request in 1996, but it was shelved by the previous Board of County Commissioners.

Many of the more than 25 people who stood up to support the Rash family's latest request said they would prefer a golf course community to the duplexes allowed under the current zoning.

In an interview after the meeting, Flo Breitenother, who owns a 92-acre farm on Hoods Mills Road, said she can appreciate the Rashes' struggle to farm in the middle of South Carroll.

"We've lived in this area for 41 years," Breitenother said. "It was once all farmland. Now, we're totally surrounded by houses. It's definitely been a change."

Some of her support was more personal.

"The Rash brothers have worked hard their entire life," she said. "I'd like to see them benefit from their hard work."

In the Rashes' rezoning application, their neighborhood is described as being bounded by Route 26 to the north, the Howard County line on the south, Route 32 on the east and Winfield/Woodbine Road to the west. Opponents of the plan are afraid other farmers in that region could argue that farms have experienced the same changes and should be rezoned.

"What's the chain reaction?" asked Iliof.

Breitenother said that should not be a concern.

"I'm sure that's a possibility," she said. "If it does happen, it's because things have changed. It's going to change sooner or later. It's very difficult to farm here."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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