Panel might limit planning oversight

Proposal would affect small-scale industrial, commercial projects

March 30, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Under pressure by the county commissioners, Carroll's planning and zoning panel soon might restrict its oversight of commercial and industrial development in an attempt to attract new business.

The five-member planning commission decided last night to delay action on a proposal that would exempt small-scale commercial and industrial projects -- those involving less than 20,000 square feet -- from review by the panel. The plan drafted by Ralph Green, director of the county permits, inspection and review department, also would exempt projects that affect less than 5,000 square feet from landscaping requirements.

"I'm in favor of a streamlined, shorter review process, but I would like to know whether the commissioners have the authority to do this," said commission member Ed Wheatley. "I'm not sure whether we're dealing with a state law or a county ordinance, and I think that needs to be clarified before we take action."

County planners are expected to present further information to the commission next month during the body's regular monthly meeting.

The commissioners have said they support the plan and believe it will attract new employers.

Last year, about 1,400 jobs, most of them in manufacturing and retail, were created in the county and 2 million square feet of commercial and industrial space was built -- with the majority of that space accounted for by Sweetheart Cup Co. near Hampstead and Random House in Westminster.

The county has about 1,000 acres of marketable industrially zoned land in Carroll, but few parcels are equipped with public water and sewer lines or natural gas lines, said Jack Lyburn, the county's director of economic development.

Lyburn oversees a staff of six, a $432,045 operating budget and a $1.3 million economic development trust fund. He works with the county Economic Development Commission, a 29-member panel of business leaders that functions as a board of directors for his department.

"I spend 80 percent of my time and 90 percent of my money on business retention," Lyburn said. "We'd like to attract large industrial prospects, but we can't because we don't have the land."

Tensions have sometimes flared between Lyburn's office and the county planning commission, and seemed at their worst when the planning panel last year demanded to review site plans for every development.

Members of the planning commission had expressed frustration at the lack of information Lyburn's department was providing.

Some projects, many of them in South Carroll, were moving forward without the panel's knowledge.

But the county commissioners forced the planning commission to back down on its demand to conduct more reviews, saying the body was creating the impression that Carroll was not "business-friendly."

Lyburn's department has also had shaky relations with some of the municipalities.

Sykesville has worked for three years to develop the state-owned Warfield Complex -- a 138-acre site with 14 century-old buildings -- as a business and academic center.

While the town pushed for preserving the buildings, Lyburn favored tearing them down, town officials said. Where Sykesville saw small businesses and offices in restored buildings, Lyburn pushed for industry and big-box outlets.

"The town vision for Warfield was for a unique development suited to the town and actually an extension of the town," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We want a high-tech business center that would be of long-term benefit to the town. The county wants a quick return. They are doing more damage than good.

"Our agendas are not the same, and we have not received any indication of movement in our direction from them."

County Commissioner Donald I. Dell said yesterday the county "needs to crank it up. I think the mayor is trying to be creative and does need some help. We need to work with them."

Lyburn could not be reached for comment last night.

In Hampstead, officials have long complained of conflicts with the county on development issues.

"As a town, we have deep concerns about the lack of communication coming from the economic development department," said Mayor Christopher M. Nevin. "We often hear about things piecemeal. And when we are told of any project, there seems to be a lack of consideration for any feedback we give."

Nevin noted the example of the county commissioners in January sending him a letter announcing their plan to extend sewer service to Sweetheart Cup, south of Hampstead.

If service is extended to the 141-acre parcel, Nevin fears that the county's wastewater treatment plant will be unable to handle future town development.

"Once again, it appears an accommodation is being made for Sweetheart Cup at the expense of the citizens of the town and surrounding area who will be impacted by this project," Nevin told the commissioners.

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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