Carroll zoning decision debated

Governor criticizes vote on Rash farm

August 28, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

To the passer-by, the Rash brothers farm is a postcard of idyllic country life: Green pastures of timothy and alfalfa slope down to lazy streams. A white clapboard farmhouse and grain silos stand clustered together like a family portrait. At sunset, when the land is washed in an orange glow, it is easily one of the prettiest scenes in Carroll County.

But the Rash brothers -- Edwin, Glenn and Claude -- are farmers, not poets. A land's beauty alone, they say, is not enough to pay the bills.

"Farming is done in the area. Farming, it's gone," said Glenn Rash, who owns the property with his brothers. "I think this 400 acres is going with it."

The farm's fate was sealed Thursday, when the county commissioners voted, 2-1, to allow the brothers to rezone 145 acres of the property for a 50-home golf course community.

State officials strongly opposed the board's decision, arguing it would undermine the county's farmland preservation program and create a powerful precedent for other farmers seeking to rezone their land.

The decision will have long-term political consequences, too.

Making a rare intervention into a local zoning issue, Gov. Parris N. Glendening harshly criticized the Carroll commissioners yesterday, saying their decision flies in the face of the state's Smart Growth policies.

Glendening indicated that Carroll County's requests for road and school funding and for permission to drill wells would receive a cool reception from the state.

"What they're doing is saying, `State, you don't have any role in the zoning process, but give us the money to pay for what we do.' And you can't do it that way," the governor said.

"It concerns me because here is a county that's been having a problem with water supply," Glendening said. He noted that the county has applications pending with the state to drill wells in South Carroll that would supply 1.5 million gallons a day to ease the area's prolonged water deficit.

The two commissioners who voted for the rezoning, Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, said their decision was made in the best interests of Carroll County.

"I guess the governor can do what he wants," Frazier said. "We're aware of those threats."

The Rash brothers make no apologies either.

People shouldn't expect farms to remain unchanged, they say.

"They want to be able to look at pretty agricultural ground," Glenn Rash said. "But there was no guarantee that it would stay like that."

The farm, northwest of Route 97 and Eden Mill Road, has been in the family since 1928, when the Rashes' father quit his job as a telephone lineman and started raising a dairy herd.

The three brothers took over in the 1960s, expanding the farm into one of the largest family farms in the county. In 1988, after deciding that suburban development was making farming too difficult, they quit.

Edwin Rash now drives a bus. Claude Rash drives a dump truck. And Glenn Rash stayed on the farm, running a one-man hay and straw business.

The Rashes tried to enter their land in the state's agricultural land preservation program in 1985, but backed out when the state offered $1,055 an acre for development rights. The brothers wanted $1,400 an acre.

No other farmers were interested in buying the farm, Glenn Rash said.

"With corn the price it is and beans, and the high price of equipment, no one can buy a farm," he said.

So the brothers fought to rezone the property for residential development, saying they needed the money for a comfortable retirement.

They submitted their first request in 1990 for 100 homes and a golf course on 360 acres. It was rejected by the county's planning commission and the county commissioners. In 1996, they tried again. The proposal was shelved by the previous Board of County Commissioners.

But on Thursday, after nearly 10 years of waiting, they were able to persuade two of the three commissioners to accept their case.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge voted against the proposal, saying she shared the state's concerns.

Dell and Frazier were backed by dozens of county residents -- including the Rashes' neighbors.

Many neighbors said they were afraid the Rashes would develop duplexes if they didn't win the rezoning case.

Under the farm's agriculture zoning, the brothers would be allowed to develop up to 24 duplexes, about one for every 20 acres.

"We could put up 48 units, but we think too much of the land and the neighborhood to do that. Legally, we could do that, but we did not," Glenn Rash said.

Most neighbors rejected the state's fears.

"I don't think there is a state in this country that has tried to control local issues. I think this is unprecedented that the state would get involved. It's highly improper. Their concerns are totally unfounded," said Edward Primoff, who owns 200 acres across the road from the Rash family and is president of the 1,800-member Carroll County Landowners Association.

Primoff said he did not expect any farmers in the neighborhood to follow the Rashes' example.

"I have never developed anything. I have no intention to develop anything," he said.

But Primoff said he could understand why farmers would want to get out of business in South Carroll.

"You cannot make minimum wage farming in South Carroll," he said. "Most have lost money. This year is going to finish a lot of them off."

Staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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