Church granted zoning waiver

Mount Airy to annex land owned by St. James Episcopal

May 18, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

To a passing motorist, the 12-acre corn field between Routes 27 and 808 on the northern outskirts of Mount Airy may not be worth a second glance.

But plans to use the parcel sparked a long debate and an unexpected response from Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who referred to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth program as the reason for his opposition to granting the owner -- St. James Episcopal Church -- a routine zoning waiver.

Although Carroll's swelling population is straining resources, the commissioners -- all Republicans -- rarely use the governor's planning policies when making zoning decisions.

"We are at constant odds with our governor, who says we are in direct conflict with his Smart Growth program," said Dell. "As much as I abhor it, I think we have to be cognizant of that."

Dell's was the sole voice of dissent.

In a letter dated May 5, state planning officials said St. James' plans to build a new church on the parcel are "consistent with state growth management policies." In April, Carroll's planning panel recommended the commissioners support St. James' plans.

St. James has said its building on Main Street in Mount Airy is not big enough for its growing congregation.

Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Robin Bartlett Frazier voted to grant St. James a zoning waiver that will allow Mount Airy to rezone the parcel when it annexes the land, a move that will give the land access to the town's public utilities. The town council is expected to take action on the matter in June.

"They are entitled to their opinion, but they are not the governor," Dell said of state planning officials and his fellow commissioners. "I'm not comfortable with it."

If St. James decides to sell the land rather than erect a church, as many as 30 homes could be built on it under the town's zoning laws. Under Smart Growth guidelines, which were designed to curb suburban sprawl and direct growth to existing communities, the state would prefer about 40 homes on the site.

"I support the church's proposal, but we have to keep in mind that their plans are not set in stone," Dell said. "They could turn around and sell this land tomorrow."

St. James officials said they have no plans to sell the property, although it will be several years before the church is built.

The parish is raising funds for the new building and has not started designing it.

"We are most pleased with the commissioners' decision," said Bradley T. Duggan, senior warden at St. James. "We certainly understand the reasons for their careful deliberation."

In August, Glendening criticized the county commissioners for rezoning the 145-acre Rash family farm in South Carroll to allow development of a 50-home golf course community, saying it would set a precedent for other farmers who want to develop their land in an area where resources are already strained.

Carroll County has the lowest percentage of police officers in the state, a limited supply of water and an emergency service system burdened by the growing population. In 10 years the county has grown 17 percent, from 123,372 in 1990 to 153,681.

"What they're doing is saying, `State, you don't have any role in the zoning process, but give us the money to pay for what we do.' And you can't do it that way," Glendening said when the Rash farm was rezoned.

At the time, he indicated that Carroll County's requests for road and school funding, and for permission to drill wells, would receive a cool reception from the state.

For months, the county has been seeking permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment for a well that would ease water shortages in South Carroll and a new discharge system for Francis Scott Key High School's idle sewage treatment plant.

Both projects are on hold while the commissioners lobby the governor for help in securing the needed permits.

Glendening has said he will not meet with the commissioners until June.

At yesterday's meeting, the commissioners also granted a zoning waiver to Mount Airy Baptist Church.

The church, on a 5-acre parcel across Route 808 from the St. James property, plans to expand its parking lot and is expected to be annexed into the town next month.

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