Farm saved from bypass by change in master plan

Owner James Harris relieved after long fight

November 02, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County commissioners finally gave James Harris what he wanted yesterday when they officially wiped away - from the county's master plan - the portion of the long-planned Westminster Bypass that would have run through his property.

Harris owns a 100-acre farm on the outskirts of the city that has been included in every bypass option proposed since 1962. He has long accused the city and county of holding hostage his land, which he calls his retirement insurance.

After yesterday's vote, Harris said he was relieved to see his portion of the bypass deleted from the county's master plan, its blueprint to guide development.

"This is something I didn't think I'd ever see," he told the commissioners. "I feel very good now, and I'd like to thank all of you for doing the right thing."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said she was comfortable voting for the deletion only because a comprehensive study of Westminster's traffic problems is under way and probably will produce alternatives.

Westminster officials have opposed Harris's quest to alter the bypass, saying the commissioners should wait for the comprehensive study before changing plans.

The bypass has appeared to be doomed since Gov. Parris N. Glendening scrapped state plans for the road nearly three years ago, saying it would promote sprawl. The state recently completed several improvements to Route 140, including widening the highway through the city. About 55,000 cars travel Route 140 through Westminster daily, and traffic congestion is expected to worsen as stores and housing developments in the area are completed.

"The transportation decision has been made before the county's own transportation study is approved - what a wonderful planning process," Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster director of planning and public works, said after the planning commission approved Harris' request two weeks ago. "Maybe in the end, this is the right choice, but this is not the right time to make it."

Beyard and others said they are unsure if Harris' victory will embolden other landowners - who want to sell, develop or improve their property - discouraged with waiting for a resolution on the bypass.

Harris said he probably will sell his land and leave Maryland - preferably for a place with no zoning laws, he added with a grin.

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