Farm fate hinges on decision

If commission agrees, land will become golf course community

Brothers want to sell

Some neighbors object, fearing it will lead to end of local agriculture

August 24, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners are expected to make a decision today on a landmark rezoning request that would allow 145 acres of South Carroll farmland to be developed into an upscale golf course community.

The farm's owners -- brothers Claude, Edwin and Glenn Rash -- have been trying to rezone their land for nearly a decade, saying increased traffic and residential development have made farming impossible. If approved, the development would also help them retire comfortably, they said.

County planners warn that the rezoning would open the door for more development of farmland and undermine the county's celebrated agricultural farmland preservation program.

It is unlikely those concerns will cause problems for the Rash family's request. Two of the three county commissioners have indicated that they back the proposal.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted in favor of the request as a member of the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission in May. And last month, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said she also supported the measure.

She restated her support yesterday.

"Based on the information from the hearing, I'm leaning in the direction of going with the rezoning," Frazier said. "But we'll have to have our discussion."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge could not be reached for comment yesterday. In previous interviews, however, she has declined to discuss how she might vote.

The board will discuss the case at 1: 30 p.m. in the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster. The commissioners can vote to approve, decline or postpone the request.

At a public hearing on the Rash case in July, about 25 residents asked the commissioners to allow the Rash family to rezone the property northwest of Route 97 and Eden Mill Road.

But a small, vocal group of neighbors opposed the plan for a golf course and 50 homes, arguing that it would bring an end to agricultural life in South Carroll by setting a powerful precedent for farm owners seeking to rezone their property for residential development.

Letters sent to the commissioners regarding the case reflect the split. The board received more than 60 letters in support of the rezoning and a handful against, according to the rezoning case file.

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.

The Rash brothers could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Charles D. Hollman, the Rashes' attorney, has said he can prove both. The county erred in 1978 when it rezoned farmland north of the Rash property for residential development but kept the Rash farm in an agriculture zone.

The neighborhood changed significantly, Hollman has argued, as residents moved into South Carroll, clogging roads and making it difficult to run a large-scale farming operation.

But a report by county planners found that the brothers' case failed the test. The property has been zoned for farming since 1965, when the county first adopted zoning laws. That status was reaffirmed in 1978 during the county's comprehensive rezoning. The farm is productive -- despite the brothers' complaints about heavy traffic making farming no longer viable. Glenn Rash operates a hay and straw business on the property and tenant farmers lease the rest.

While traffic and housing have increased during the past two decades, all of those changes were anticipated, planners said.

Pub Date: 8/24/99

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