Commissioners return master plan to county planning panel for review

Most specific policies removed during latest round of revisions

April 16, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

After waiting nearly two years to see the commissioners' proposed master plan for managing Carroll's growth, the county planning panel will begin its review of the document tomorrow.

The commissioners' latest revision of the plan, which would set the first new development guidelines since 1964, weakens provisions for directing development to the county's eight towns and Finksburg, and eliminates all of the planning policies drafted during two years of discussions.

"It's about time we move forward," said planning commission chairwoman Deborah L. Ridgely. "I'm glad we're going to finally be able to finish this up."

Work on the master plan began in December 1995 after two decades of rapid residential growth, particularly in Finksburg and the Freedom Area.

Four teams of about 35 people each, including professional planners and residents, spent more than 2,100 hours analyzing the information that formed the basis of the document.

The planning commission approved the plan in June 1998 and sent it to the commissioners for adoption in July. Four months later, the commissioners deferred all action until a new board was elected.

During the years of meetings and formal hearings, residents repeatedly said they wanted a detailed master plan that would put an end to what they regarded as unsightly or poorly planned development. The commissioners chose instead to propose a simple plan free of specific goals and policies.

"We don't want to be too restrictive. I don't think we want to limit development to the [designated growth areas] because there may be appropriate exceptions," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said. "Businesses know where they need to locate. They've done their homework and know better than we do where they need to be."

Book of recommendations

The commissioners want to put the planning strategies and policies they cut out of the master plan in a separate document, as a book of recommendations they may refer to but do not have to adopt.

"I think the plan we're presenting is a good one," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "I hope the planning commission accepts what we've returned to them. They may debate a few things and come to some decision Monday, but there's a lot in it for them to digest and they may have some questions. It could take a couple of weeks."

Planning panel member Ed Wheatley, who attended most of the commissioners' work sessions on the master plan, said he, too, favors a simplified master plan.

Strategy debated

"It's fine to have goals in the master plan, but the plan should not recommend how those goals are accomplished," Wheatley said. "It is not the planning commission's job to tell the commissioners what they should do. That is an administrative function."

Donald F. Norris, professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the best master plans do exactly what the commissioners wish to avoid -- they place restrictions on land use.

"You need good directions to get where you want to go," Norris said. "A master plan needs to be a clear road map, otherwise, it turns out to be relatively meaningless."

The planning panel will begin its review of the proposed master plan at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Room 3 of the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., in Westminster. When the review is complete, the master plan will be returned to the commissioners, who can formally adopt or reject the document but cannot amend it.

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