Building ban extended through '04

Commissioners note concerns about water

March 16, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Concerned about possible water shortages in South Carroll, the county commissioners voted yesterday to extend through 2004 a ban on residential construction in the county's most rapidly growing area.

Last summer, the commissioners enacted the ban through 2003 but intended to allow 150 homes to be built annually in South Carroll in 2004 and 2005. Those projections were based on the opening of a $13 million water-treatment plant at Piney Run Reservoir to provide the region with more drinking water.

Without that plant, the county might not have enough water to supply the more than 30,000 residents in South Carroll, also known as the Freedom area, which is the county's most populous region.

"We are uncertain about Piney Run and should maintain [the ban] until we are more certain," Steven C. Horn, the county planning director, said in a meeting with commissioners yesterday. "We can come back to this any time."

The vote was 2-to-1 yesterday, with Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier opposing the extension of the ban.

The ban on construction through 2004 does not affect the estimated 350 residential lots that have been approved and have secured building permits. According to county records, South Carroll, which includes Eldersburg and Sykesville, has about 2,100 lots on which building is possible.

The county planning department recommended the ban, which is in line with a county ordinance barring development until infrastructure such as roads, schools and utilities exists to support it.

"Obviously, you don't live in the Freedom area," Donna Slack of Eldersburg told the commissioners. "There is nothing adequate about the water supply there. Shouldn't you have the infrastructure in place before you think about growth? If you record these lots and you are wrong about the plant, we are the ones stuck with more problems."

Frazier said she is certain that the Piney Run plant, which could double the drinking water supply, will be operating by 2004. She said she wanted to continue to allow 150 homes in 2004 and in 2005 so that people could continue to plan.

"I don't see any reason to limit the out years," Frazier said. "We are on schedule with building the plant."

She said Carroll recently drilled a high-yield well near Route 32, which should add as much as 300,000 gallons a day to the water supply. That should be enough to cover shortages until the Piney Run plant is operating, Frazier said.

"There is an adequate supply with the new well," Frazier said. "The only question is the new plant."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said uncertainty about the plant convinced him of the necessity for the ban. Although the county has begun designing the Piney Run plant, it has not applied for a construction permit from the state. Securing such permits has proved to be time-consuming.

"I would be surprised if we get the building permit in this governor's administration," Dell said. "Saying we will have the plant on line is a stretch. We can't let development get ahead of our ability to provide facilities."

Dell said he would not agree to extend the ban to include 2005, however.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge pushed to forbid development until the area is assured of adequate water and classrooms. By 2004, Mount Airy Elementary, which draws pupils from South Carroll, will be well over its enrollment capacity and could be a consideration when development is considered, she said.

"Once we have given the OK, development can continue," Gouge said. "We can always put these lots back in if the plant is under construction. This is not a moratorium."

Frazier responded, "It will be if we put zeroes in the lots column."

Pam Seiter of Eldersburg called for patience.

"So often this county takes the reaction approach," she said. "You want to provide infrastructure first, not scramble to build it after you have let development in."

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