Plan change splits Carroll residents

Growth foes decry revision

land-rights activists back it

`Carte blanche for developers'

Development curbs removed from master proposal

March 19, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners' decision to revamp the proposed master plan for Carroll's development has growth-control activists crying foul and property-rights proponents smiling.

Last week, the commissioners removed long-sought control policies from the document and returned it to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission. The document was years in the drafting and was born of hours of residents' discussion.

"It's a master piece of paper now, that's all," said Jeannie Nichols, a Sykesville councilwoman.

Laws and zoning regulations that govern growth would remain in place, but all the development strategies -- for transportation, water and sewer and other infrastructure -- would be in separate books, which the master plan would refer to.

"There is nothing to stop them from building now and worrying about infrastructure later," said Carolyn Fairbank, a resident of South Carroll, the county's most populous area and one beset with crowded schools and roads, and water shortages.

Such elements as design standards have been deleted, and historic preservation guidelines are diluted.

"Design standards should not be the government's purview," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "Those are subjective opinions."

Greg Becker, who worked on the land-use team that helped write the draft, said the commissioners "have rejected citizens' input and asked for a free hand to develop as they please. This is carte blanche for developers."

The commissioners' version of what was a 125-page document goes back to the county planning commission.

`Ship it back'

"If I were on the commission, I would put the plan right back to where it was and ship it back to them," said Nimrod Davis, chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council. "These three commissioners are not looking at the whole picture. Everything should be done for the good of all the community, not just for the ones who want to build here."

When the planning commission completes its review, it will return the document to the commissioners, who can then adopt or reject the plan but cannot make additional changes.

Because it has such major changes, a 60-day review by county and state agencies and at least one more public hearing will be required. The plan has generated little interest among residents and have been poorly attended.

Misinterpretation

Residents are misinterpreting the commissioners' action on a plan that lacked practical elements, said Steve Horn, county director of planning.

"The commissioners have not rejected the plan; they have remanded it to the planning commission," said Horn. "The draft was a values-driven document with goals and objectives. There were no land-use changes. They want to see practicality, which they didn't see in the present form."

Frazier said the original plan, written in 1964, is working. Growth is occurring in and around the eight towns and in Freedom and Finksburg -- areas where the 36-year-old plan envisioned development.

"All we need to do is give the old plan a face lift," said Frazier. "Growth is happening the way we planned."

The county has good development goals in place and has reaffirmed its commitment to agricultural land preservation. It needs to revamp those goals and update its direction, said Horn.

A `kick in the face'

For the volunteers who wrote the plan, the commissioners' rejection "is like a kick in the face," said Davis.

Fairbank resigned from the draft committee in 1997, after working for about two months. She said she knew three years ago what the outcome would be.

"They gutted the plan and made sure there is no one on the planning commission to stand in their way," said Fairbank. "Now they might as well throw it in the trash."

After two recent departures from the planning commission, the board of commissioners recently decided to keep the board at five members.

Designating growth areas

Ed Primoff, a Woodbine farmer who worked two years on two master plan committees, said he understood the commissioners' rationale.

The draft had no provisions for growth, he said.

"The primary purpose of a master plan is to designate where growth is going to be," said Primoff.

"When you don't plan for growth, you get hodgepodge. What we had was a feel-good document with no substance. Whether you are pro-growth or not, you still need a master plan for commercial, residential and industrial growth. How else do you pay the bills?"

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