Delay urged in watershed land rezoning

Liberty-area studies needed, group says

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

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council has asked Carroll officials to defer changes in land use in the Liberty Reservoir watershed for about a year to allow time for the completion of environmental studies that might ease restrictions on industrial development.

But Carroll Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier said yesterday the county needs to rezone for industry as soon as possible and cannot wait for the studies.

"I am not willing to wait," said Frazier, referring to the council, whose board voted Tuesday in Baltimore to request the delay. The council includes the leadership of Baltimore and its surrounding counties.

Dell, agreeing with Frazier, said, "The studies are a good thing, but I probably am not willing to wait a year."

In a workshop yesterday, the commissioners reviewed nearly 50 rezoning petitions, many of them in the watershed area, but took no action.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge is the only Carroll commissioner authorized to vote as a member of the council's board of directors. She voted at the council meeting Tuesday with the majority to postpone land-use changes for a year, but is certain her colleagues will override any such decisions.

"It makes sense to wait for the studies," said Gouge. "Right here in Carroll, we have $40,000 to do a study of the watershed. We may see after that that we are more or less restricted in what we want to do. Updating can be good, and the [council] could develop new goals and strategies for the watershed."

As an incentive, the council tabled efforts to reaffirm the longstanding watershed management agreement - a voluntary pact that safeguards the drinking water supply for 1.8 million people - and authorized revisions to "address current issues, programs and needs," members said.

"We want to commit to things that are based on sound science," said Catherine M. Rappe, water resources program manager for the council. "The agreement is still intact. Nobody has pulled out. We can all still work toward meeting its goals."

Support withheld

Dell and Frazier, however, have withheld their endorsement of the pact, which they contend infringes on their land-use authority. If provisions restricting development in Carroll remain intact, Dell said he would not sign the agreement.

Dell and Frazier sparred at length with Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger during the council's session. No one was willing to budge.

"We don't see eye to eye on this issue," said Dell.

"We are at a stalemate now," said Ruppersberger. "New data could give you a way to look at another point of view. I am not trying to make this personal. We all agree that we cannot compromise on water quality. Let's get the new data in place."

Frazier said, "We won't change our position. We have to have the ability to rezone. We are asking the [council] to take out wording that ties our hands."

Carroll has been a good steward of its natural resources, but "we have an obligation to our citizens to create industry," Dell said.

Carroll's industrial tax base is slightly above 12 percent, the lowest in the metropolitan area. Much of the land considered for industry lies in the watershed, an area that covers 40 percent of Carroll and includes five of its nine planned growth areas

`We want industry'

"The agreement keeps us from zoning for industry in marketable areas," Frazier said. "We want industry in our growth areas, like our air park, which is in the watershed. It makes sense to rezone there."

Ruppersberger countered, "Only as long as it does not affect water quality."

David A.C. Carroll, director of Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection & Resource Management, urged the group to work together to develop water quality programs.

"Let's stop arguing over whether to reaffirm the agreement and spend time and energy on how to insure the quality of drinking water," Carroll said. "It is incumbent on the commissioners to say they have done everything possible to protect drinking water. They can't say that now."

Gouge said, "A lot of citizens are concerned with the rezonings, and a lot support keeping the agreement as it is written. I personally feel there are areas with public water and sewer that we can rezone. But we cannot eat up farmland. There is diverse opinion on our commissioner board, and I am in the minority."

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