Law `strikes at' Smart Growth

State considering action against Carroll

October 12, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A new Carroll County zoning law that seems likely to spur residential development on farmland throughout the county "strikes at the heart of Smart Growth by encouraging the development of agricultural land," and the state is considering "appropriate action," a spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday.

Since the Carroll commissioners enacted the ordinance less than three weeks ago, county staff members have fielded numerous inquiries about the new law. It has received one application for a 40-lot subdivision from Edward Primoff, who helped write the law as a member of the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who voted against the measure before her colleagues adopted it Sept. 17, predicted the law would raise the ire of the state, especially when small subdivisions start cropping up on isolated farmland throughout the county. Commissioners Donald I. Dell, a lifelong farmer, and Robin Bartlett Frazier voted in favor of the ordinance.

"Clearly, the governor is opposed to the actions of two of the three commissioners," said Michelle Byrnie, a spokeswoman for the governor. Glendening has vowed to become involved in local zoning issues that contradict Smart Growth, his initiative to control sprawl.

"The driving principle is to preserve farmland and to sustain the agriculture industry," Byrnie said. "This action directly contradicts both those purposes. The state is looking into appropriate actions."

Primoff, president of the Carroll County Landowners Association, could convert the development rights for 90 acres of conservation land on his nearly 200-acre Woodbine farm to build 30 homes on his agricultural land. Under older laws, he has the right to develop 10 homes on his property.

"Primoff has given us the information to take lots off his conservation land and cluster them across agriculture zoning," said Richard A. Owings, Carroll's bureau chief of development review. "It is all in line with the new zoning regulations. We are expecting a lot more of these applications, and we have had a lot of calls with questions on how to interpret the law."

Glendening has severely and publicly criticized Carroll for rezoning the 145-acre Rash farm two years ago, to pave the way for a 50-lot, golf-course community. The state's Department of Planning sent a planner to several committee meetings and to the public hearing on the new law Sept. 6. The planner declined to comment.

Primoff's farm is across Route 97 from the Rash property in Woodbine, which is in South Carroll near Eldersburg. Charles D. Hollman, attorney for the Rashes in the rezoning case, is chairman of the zoning committee.

"Is Primoff baiting the state, trying to bring them into local zoning?" asked Ross Dangel of Eldersburg and spokesman for Freedom Area Citizens Council, which monitors South Carroll development. "This is too obvious coming so soon after the ordinance was enacted."

Primoff said he decided eight or nine months ago that he would develop lots on his conservation land. He is using the new program instead because he thinks it will ensure more open space and benefit the county overall. The idea for the new ordinance was not his.

"When I was first presented with it, I didn't like it," he said. The ordinance allows landowners to use conservation land, often ill-suited to construction, as a catalyst for developing agricultural tracts. By transferring development rights from conservation to agricultural land, they can create one residential lot for every 3 acres, instead of one for every 20 acres, as is usually allowed in agricultural zoning.

Primoff realized that by clustering 30 1-acre lots on farmland and leaving the remaining 60 acres in open space, he would be able to keep those 60 acres undisturbed. He said he is certain he would have earned more money by building on 3-acre lots for expensive homes on his conservation land, but he is content that more of his land will remain open.

`Ethical concern'

Neil Ridgely, spokesman for Finksburg Planning Area Council, said he plans to ask the state to intervene. The composition of the nine-member zoning review committee, appointed by the commissioners, includes several landowners, attorneys who often handle zoning cases and a real estate agent. "I have a real ethical concern," Ridgely said. "This certainly places the character of the zoning committee in question - certainly not all the members but many of them."

Primoff said people always assume he has ulterior motives for his actions, but he said that because he didn't conceive the ordinance, and he won't make extra money from it, he sees no conflict.

"Whatever I do, I'll be criticized," Primoff said. "I don't like it, but I'm almost used to it now."

`Pet zoning issue'

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