Section of bypass could be bypassed

Farm's owner wants county to buy land or take road off map

Westminster

September 18, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's planning commission could remove a significant portion of the long-planned and often-delayed Westminster bypass from the comprehensive plan, effectively scrapping a project designed nearly 40 years ago to relieve traffic congestion on Route 140.

At a public hearing today, Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission will take comments on deleting a section of the bypass that runs through a 100-acre farm owned by James and Frances Harris. The road project, in various forms, has been on Carroll maps since 1962.

"The commission is looking at one property impacted by the proposed bypass alignment and could remove a portion of the bypass from the master plan," said Jeanne Joiner, Carroll's acting director of planning.

The state denied funding for the $200 million project, and a Manchester bypass, in 1999. State officials said the routes ran contrary to Smart Growth, Gov. Parris N. Glendening's initiative to direct development to existing communities.

The Harrises bought the Brehm Road farm in 1985, intending to develop it into 46 building lots - a project the previous owner had begun with the county's preliminary approval.

"I looked on this purchase as my retirement fund," said Jim Harris, a landscape contractor. "But I have been playing a game with the county since 1985."

Bypass plans, which planners have altered several times, could have taken as much as 50 percent of the farm. The uncertainty prevented Harris' project from moving forward and, a year ago, he put the property on the market. He has had no offers.

Harris leases the land to a farmer who pays $2,000 annually. Property taxes are about $4,000. Three months ago, he filed a lawsuit against the county, hoping to spur officials to action. He wants the county to buy his land or take the road off the map.

"This road was a line drawn in pencil in 1962 and 40 years is too long to wait for government to make a decision," Harris said. "This whole issue should be resolved. The county should either buy the land or take it off the bypass route."

The commission will review comments and should make its recommendation to the county commissioners next month. Other landowners could follow Harris' lead.

"This is not just about me," said Harris, who has spent about $5,000 on the lawsuit. "There are a bunch of these projects throughout the county and nobody ever removes them from the plans. This is just basic housekeeping." He said he intends to sell the property, which could be developed by the new owner.

The county has commissioned a transportation study to determine alternatives to the bypass.

"We are trying to see what we can do," said Joiner. "These would have to be county-built solutions in an area where the bypass would have been."

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