Residents are vocal on future of area

Workshops, survey draw strong response

April 08, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Unincorporated, without its own official local government and spread out across 28,000 acres, Finksburg nevertheless is coming together to demand a voice in its future.

Attendance has been high at two county-sponsored workshops about a new master plan for Finksburg's growth - the first such effort in 20 years. Residents have responded in record numbers to a survey on what they want the plan to say.

"Even though we are spread apart, we may be the most involved community in Carroll County," said Laura O'Callaghan. "We want to keep this a rural area with a cohesive look that is attractive to business. We don't want to be open to massive development."

Recent Census figures put the population of Finksburg, often called the gateway to Carroll County, at about 18,000. Subdivisions of Colonials, ranchers and split foyers, most built during the last 25 years, line Routes 140 and 91.

More than 1,700 of the 5,300 homeowners who received the county survey a month ago have returned the documents with their comments.

"We are really pleased with the response," said Matthew W. Simmont, the county planner recently assigned to Finksburg. "Other towns have gotten maybe 20 percent. We got 30 percent from Finksburg."

Donald E. Hoffman, president of the Finksburg Planning Area Council, called the response heartening. "It sends a message to county government that Finksburg is interested in its plan and its community," he said.

Many of those responding asked that the area maintain its rural appeal and that any new industry be directed to sites along the Route 140 corridor, away from the farmlands that mark the interior roads, Simmont said.

"We are stuck with 140, but we want input and control on the changes," said resident Walter Pharr. "We are not building from scratch. We have things that are difficult to change, and we have to work around them."

Finksburg formed its planning council about four years ago and is trying to forge a strong working relationship with Carroll officials. Every few months the council issues a score card on the county commissioners, rating them on 13 criteria.

The commissioners' responsiveness to the council has gone from an F in the summer to a B last week. But the council emphasizes the need for improvement in other areas, too.

The commissioners have not received any A's and have maintained abysmally low grades in zoning, environment, watershed protection and billboards.

The council focuses on controlling growth and the effects of development on the community. Members want those elements written into the plan.

"We can't create Finksburg - it is already here," said resident John Lopez. "We have no Main Street and we are really spread out, but we can make Finksburg more attractive for everyone coming into Carroll County."

Nearly all of Finksburg lies within the Liberty Reservoir watershed. The council urges strict protections for the land that buffers the reservoir, which supplies drinking water for nearly 2 million Baltimore area residents.

"We have to write watershed protections into this plan," Hoffman said. "Finksburg sits in the watershed."

The new plan will help shape what Finksburg will look like during the next 20 years. On the council's wish list is fewer billboards, preservation of farmland and a branch of the public library. Although the plan recommends a town center, many have said they are leery of that, fearing it will mean another strip shopping center along Route 140.

As it refines the vision of Finksburg's future, Carroll's planning department has assured residents that their input is valuable.

"We are not looking to put a new town somewhere, but we would like to add amenities that residents want to the existing area," Brenda J. M. Dinne, the county's manager of comprehensive planning, said at a recent workshop. "Tell us what to do to make the plan what you are looking for."

Planners will consider the survey, comments from the workshops and input from the council as they put together a new plan.

"These people know what they want, and they are good at giving us input," Dinne said.

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