The Carroll County commissioners rezoned for commercial use about 21 acres of residential land in the Liberty watershed yesterday, a move county officials say will not harm the source of drinking water for 1.8 million Marylanders.
Despite assurances that they would wait until next month to take action on several rezoning requests, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier voted to rezone 0.8 acres near Westminster and about 20 acres on the south side of Liberty Road, east of Ridge Road, in Eldersburg. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge did not attend the meeting.
"These land-use changes should not be controversial," county Planning Director Steven C. Horn told the board. "We did not rezone agricultural or conservation land. These properties were both zoned for high-density residential development. In fact, the Westminster rezoning simply confirms an existing [business] use of the site, and the rezoning in South Carroll is consistent with development in the surrounding area."
Neither Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger nor Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley could be reached for comment yesterday. In the past, they have objected strongly to rezoning rural land in the watershed for fear that business development could contaminate Liberty Reservoir.
For months, Dell and Frazier have been trying to alter wording in the Reservoir Watershed Management Agreement so that land in Carroll County can be rezoned for industry. The agreement is designed to safeguard land around the metropolitan reservoirs from development. Carroll is the only metropolitan area to have withheld its endorsement.
Most of the Liberty Watershed, nearly 116,000 acres, is in Carroll and encompasses more than one-third of the county's land. The commissioners have repeatedly said that they need to rezone some of that land to attract industry.
The zoning changes made yesterday will become effective in 10 days. The properties were among eight sites considered for rezoning. Two of those properties - 17 acres on Twin Arch Road near Mount Airy and 70 acres off Route 31, near the LaFarge quarry - were rezoned at a public hearing Nov. 20. The Mount Airy site was rezoned for commercial use and the property near the quarry was rezoned for industrial use.
A third property, a 70-acre site near the county airport north of Westminster, also was considered for rezoning, but the property owner withdrew his request before last month's public hearing.
The commissioners are expected to act by Feb. 1 on the remaining three rezoning requests. Those sites total about 403 mostly rural acres and lie in the Liberty Reservoir watershed.
"We're still negotiating the watershed agreement," Frazier said. "We hope to have that done by February so we can move forward. We decided to hold off on rezoning the remaining properties as a show of cooperation."
The outstanding rezoning requests are:
218 acres on the west side of Route 97, north of Route 26, in South Carroll. Proposed use: industrial.
70 acres on the east side of Route 97, north of Route 26, in South Carroll. Proposed use: industrial.
And 115 acres on the north side of Route 140, northwest of the county landfill. Proposed use: industrial.
In other business, the commissioners discussed plans to expand North Carroll Senior Center and transferred $488,772 to the sheriff's office to pay the salaries of five deputy patrol officers and six correctional officers.