Limiting planning oversight

Carroll County: Accelerating business development approval is good, if public input is assured.

April 04, 2000

BUSINESS-friendly is one thing, citizen-friendly is another. Those two fundamental objectives for Carroll County need to be reconciled in streamlining the development planning process.

County officials want to simplify the planning process by exempting business developments of under 20,000 feet from planning commission review. Plans also call for cutting in half the building permit fees paid by small-scale projects, and exempting projects under 5,000 square feet from landscaping requirements.

While the latter two measures would accelerate commercial development without significant public harm, the first proposal would eliminate an effective stage for public comment and inquiry. Questions about the impact of such projects should be posed in an open setting, period.

The effect of the proposed change would be to further limit the authority of the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has been a brake on county rezoning and development plans in recent years. For example, the panel last year rebuffed the county economic development office by refusing to approve the rezoning of nearly 1,000 acres for industrial use.

The county commissioners already have reduced the commission's from seven to five members and have told the planning body it could not automatically examine every development site plan.

There's little question that Carroll needs more commercial and industrial development to shore up its tax base, which is overly dependent on residential taxes.

Having more developable land in inventory would help in the hunt for businesses to locate and expand in Carroll.The county commissioners are looking at rezoning about 1,500 acres of mostly rural land for that purpose.

But planning commission oversight of site plans is still important. And 20,000 square feet is too large and area for exemption. A lower exemption threshold would both benefit development and the public trust.

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