Group takes reins in appeal

Rezoning of Rash farm had many critics, but residents took up fight

November 07, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

When the Carroll County commissioners voted to rezone 145 acres of South Carroll farmland for a 50-home golf course community in August, the decision -- which some fear will lead to unbridled development -- drew criticism from some of Maryland's most powerful environmental groups, the state planning office and Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

But when it came time to appeal the decision, the job fell to a fledgling group of South Carroll citizens and a Sykesville resident. They have few financial resources, must depend on their own legal knowledge and will most likely face an uphill battle in the courts.

Still, they like their odds.

"I've been through two marriages and two wars. This is nothing," said Nimrod Davis, a 74-year-old Marine veteran who is acting chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens' Council, which filed a joint appeal of the rezoning with Douglas M. Ilioff of Sykesville.

Davis, whose ancestors moved to Carroll more than 200 years ago, says the challenge fits with his group's goal of managing growth.

Opponents of the Rash plan -- including Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who voted against it -- say the rezoning will deliver a fatal blow to that goal, causing a domino ef- fect as other farmers use the case as precedent to rezone their land for development.

Despite these fears, which were echoed by the Sierra Club, 1000 Friends of Maryland, Glendening and others, few people were motivated to appeal.

"It's a big thing to ask for a citizen to put their name on a lawsuit," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends. "People feel intimidated."

Finding supporters

Although her group is concerned about the decision, it did not have the resources or the legal standing to challenge the decision, she said. The state Office of Planning also decided to steer clear of an appeal, choosing to let local jurisdictions make the decision. Some county residents were reluctant to get involved.

"We thought our effort would collapse," said Greg Becker, vice chairman of the Sierra Club-Catoctin Group, and a strong critic of the Rash decision.

The Sierra Club is deciding the extent of its support, so Becker persuaded the Freedom area council and Ilioff to pick up the pieces. The 11th-hour appeal "breathed new life" into the fight, Becker said.

"I've heard everything from `You haven't got a chance' to `You can't lose.' I fall in the middle. I think we have a strong case in an appeal, but it's the tendency of the court to defer to legislative decisions," Becker said.

The legal battle will likely be long and tedious. It is expected to take at least six months before the case will land in a courtroom, according to county officials. No new evidence will be presented during the appeal. A judge will hear arguments from both sides and review the record of the county's decision.

The Rash brothers have been trying to rezone their property west of Route 97 in South Carroll for about 10 years, saying they need the money to retire. The farm, once the headquarters for the three brothers' dairy operations, was the center of a 3,000-acre corn, soybean and hay business.

To win rezoning approval, the brothers -- Claude, 61, Glenn, 68, and Edwin, 73 -- needed to 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 brothers argue that the county erred in 1978 when it rezoned farmland north of their property for the Streamwood development but kept their farm in the agriculture zone. And new residents pouring into South Carroll have changed the neighborhood, making it impossible to operate a large-scale farming operation, they say. Clogged roads make it difficult to move equipment from field to field, they say.

County and state planners disagreed, saying neither criterion had been met.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier voted in favor of the rezoning, while Gouge voted against it. Gouge has filed a written dissent, echoing the objections of state and county planners.

That dissent will most likely serve as the basis for the appeal, Davis said. The legal arguments are expected to be made by Ilioff's wife, Mary D. Oldewurtel, who made an unsuccessful bid for school board last year and has worked with Legal Aid in Baltimore and private law firms.

Additional legal help may come from Richard S. Nacewicz, an attorney and member of the 11-person Freedom area council.

"I came to Carroll County for its rural atmosphere and lack of development," Nacewicz said. "I thought it would have a more tranquil atmosphere. I made a mistake. It's a hotbed of overdevelopment."

Trying to find resolution

For Davis, who has served as president of Maryland Wildlife Federation and pushed for legislation turning Assateague Island into a national seashore, it will be another in a long list of environmental fights.

"It's not that anyone wants the Rash brothers to lose any money," Davis said. He hopes the state and county will find money to put the Rash property in agricultural preservation. The Rashes have said they would be open to an offer if the price is right.

Claude Rash said that, even if the farm were preserved, it would not change the rezoning. He does not expect the appeal to be successful. "I feel we made a good case," he said. "I am confident we'll be OK."

Pub Date: 11/07/99

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