Carroll zoning law criticized by state

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.

"The driving principle [of Smart Growth] is to preserve farmland and to sustain the agriculture industry," said Michelle Byrnie, a spokeswoman for the governor. "This action directly contradicts both those purposes."

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.

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. The idea for the new ordinance was not his.

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.

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.

John Lopez resigned from the committee in the spring because of his work schedule. "Nearly everyone [on the committee] had a pet zoning issue that they wanted changed to benefit them or their clients," Lopez said.

The Finksburg council has criticized the commissioners for the law, calling it the "Lease Farm Bonus Provision Amendment," alluding to a Union Bridge property the county needed for a road project and for which the commissioners paid an inflated price - six times the appraised value.

The ordinance is ill-defined and difficult to understand, said Dennis Broderick, Finksburg council president. The commissioners acknowledged that the wording is ambiguous.

"The commissioners, particularly Dell, said they did not want to get bogged down in the details when they passed it," said Broderick, who runs a liquor distributorship in Finksburg. "How can they use this as a working tool? ... If I ran my business this way, my employees would not know what to do."

Lopez added, "Not only will there be less open space, but there will be a tremendous burden on infrastructure for all this development the county has not planned."

Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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