Clustered housing and sprawl

Carroll ordinance: Stealth zoning law subverts subdivision planning, spurs more housing development.

November 04, 2001

WHAT'S to dislike about a law that seems to increase open space in housing developments and to promote the higher-density housing that Smart Growth advocates love?

Plenty, since the new zoning ordinance adopted by Carroll County commissioners aims to increase the number of new houses that can be built and encourages costly leap-frog development. This in a county hard-pressed to provide adequate public services for existing housing.

Plus, Commissioners Donald Dell and Robin Frazier sneaked through the measure with scant public input after a panel of landowners and real estate people concocted the ambiguously worded scheme. The month-old law quickly attracted higher-density subdivision applications from people who had a hand in its design.

The new law allows landowners with land in both conservation and agriculture zones to cluster the development rights into one zone. That increases the number of homes that can be built on the entire property and raises housing densities. More farmers will be tempted to convert their land to housing because it is easier, cheaper and more lucrative.

By clustering all homes in one section, more contiguous farmland and open space would presumably be preserved. In fact, clustered planned unit developments are employed elsewhere - in special cases - to maximize amenities.

But many conservation zone areas in Carroll have unbuildable lots due to topographic limitations. Under the new law, however, these unusable lots aren't subtracted from the cluster total.

Some landowners may choose the old method, figuring that larger-lot homes are more profitable. But most will go for maximizing the number of permitted houses, increasing all taxpayers' burden of providing new public services.

Perhaps the commissioners hope to goad the state into challenging their local zoning authority. That harms the greater county's interests. Meantime, rational zoning is again subverted by developers and their elected allies.

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