Mimicking the mistakes of Ritchie Highway


January 02, 2000

Several years ago, after witnessing the decline in the quality of life in Anne Arundel County as the result of mismanaged growth and poor zoning, I became an activist involved in managed growth issues.

I believe unless more of us become involved the consequences will be a further deterioration of our quality of life at the hands of unbridled growth.

The best example of unbridled growth without zoning in Maryland has to be Ritchie Highway from Glen Burnie to Annapolis.

From 1936 to 1966, there were churches beside used car lots, night clubs and bars beside private residents, signs and neon lights of all sizes and just about anything else that one could imagine.

Anne Arundel County has had great success in cleaning up this mess in the past 30 years. But the point is with proper zoning, good management and foresight in creating a master plan and implementing it through tough zoning ordinances, this never would have happened.

Similarly, the Freedom area of Carroll County is a good example of poor zoning, bad management and no foresight whatsoever.

Because the Carroll commissioners and budget director have seen nothing but dollar signs for next year's budget from new residential taxes and impact fees and greedy developers have seen nothing but dollar signs from more building, the Freedom area is left with traffic problems, potable water problems, sewer problems and crowded schools. And now the commissioners support the rezoning of 145 acres of the Rash brothers' property that can only lead to more infrastructure problems.

The county has created these problems and now it wants to spend $17 million on collector roads to try to keep the traffic off routes 26 and 32. Taxpayers in Taneytown, New Windsor and the rest of the county will be helping to pay for these roads but the developers will be the beneficiaries. They will build houses without having to build and pay for collector roads to support new development as previously required.

In spite of these problems, the commissioners to date have not signed a new Master Plan, a new Freedom Plan or enacted a meaningful concurrency management ordinance. I guess the reason for this is they want Carroll County to look like Ritchie Highway, 1960.

Because the county government has failed to address these issues and no local government existed to represent the interests of citizens in the Freedom Planning Area, an activist group known as Solutions for a Better South Carroll went before the Planning Commission. It asked the commission to approve and appoint a Freedom Area Citizens Planning Council to work with the planning department to help manage growth in the Freedom area.

The commission approved the idea and the planning department set up a task force of homeowners, business people, builders, etc.

For a short period, all went fairly smooth. Then we started getting less cooperation from the planning department. After the last election, we decided to change our name to the Freedom Area Citizens Council (FACC) and wrote new bylaws.

Currently, we have 11 board members and more than 100 families as members. While our name has changed, our main objectives are still to keep the public informed through the Freedom Banner (our quarterly newspaper) and try to help manage growth.

We are taught from childhood the importance of private property but how do we find the balance between private interest and public good? The answer is in shared values. Only when we share responsibility for what our community becomes will common sense lead to sensible growth.

Nimrod Davis, Sykesville

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