Environmental activists set goals

Preserving farmland, curbing sprawl among issues listed

January 14, 2000|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Preserving 145 acres of South Carroll farmland, updating the county's master plan, curbing sprawl and stopping open bay dumping are some of the most important environmental issues facing the county and Maryland this year, according to state and local activists.

These and other goals were raised during an annual environmental issues forum last night at Carroll Community College. In its fifth year, the environmental issues forum is sponsored by the Catoctin chapter of the Sierra Club, a 550-member group representing Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties.

The state expects a $1 billion budget surplus. The Sierra Club would like to see a portion of the newfound wealth go to pressing environmental projects.

Greg Becker, vice chairman of the Sierra Club-Catoctin group, said he wants the state to buy the development rights for the Rash brothers' farm in South Carroll. Against objections by environmental groups and state officials, the county commissioners rezoned the 145-acre property for a 50-home, upscale golf-course community.

Opponents of the rezoning fear the change will undermine the county's agricultural preservation program and lead to unbridled development in South Carroll.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier voted in favor of the rezoning. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge voted against it.

In November, a Freedom-area residents group and a Sykesville resident filed a joint appeal of the county's decision in Carroll County Circuit Court.

Preserve Rural Carroll, a group formed to help finance the appeal, has raised about $1,000 to pay for legal expenses, Becker said.

Sierra Club-Catoctin also pushed last night for the county to approve the master plan.

The proposed master plan would direct development to designated growth areas, set goals for preserving 100,000 acres of farmland and change the zoning designation of five properties totaling 223 acres to foster economic development.

The county started updating the plan -- the first revision since 1964 -- in December 1995. It won planning commission approval in July 1998 and was forwarded to the previous board of commissioners, which shelved it just before the election that year. The current board is reviewing the plan section by section.

Members of the Catoctin group, who helped update the master plan, want the commissioners to approve it without major revisions.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, outlined a broad agenda for her organization, including efforts to preserve family farms, limit the size of hog farms and improve the state's Smart Growth plan. Her group helped draft a bill that would change state building codes that inhibit redevelopment.

"We are trying to understand the things that get in the way of revitalization and Smart Growth," she said.

Sierra Club members also are fighting the Maryland Port Administration's plan to dump 18 million cubic yards of mud dredged from the port of Baltimore's approach channels into a section of the Chesapeake Bay called "Site 104."

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