Farmland zoning revision offered

January 17, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Two Carroll commissioners have reached a compromise on revising a contentious zoning ordinance that led the Maryland Department of Planning to threaten to cut the county's coveted land preservation funds.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Julia Walsh Gouge said their proposed revisions, particularly one calling for clustering building lots on the least productive or untillable parcels of farmland, should be palatable to the state. Clustering building lots would leave more space open, and directing construction to untillable land would reduce the number of lots available for development.

Both provisions would seem to fall more in line with Smart Growth, Gov. Parris N. Glendening's favorite initiative to control growth. State officials reserved comment yesterday. But when the ordinance was passed, it evoked a sharp response from the public and the state Planning Department, which said it would withhold $400,000 in Carroll's land preservation funds if the law was not changed by Feb. 15.

"If we are going to preserve ag land, we have to make clustering mandatory to guarantee we have good, open farmland," said Dell, a lifelong farmer. "If we don't make it mandatory, it will depend on each landowner."

Dell and Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who is on a missionary trip to the Philippines, outvoted Gouge and passed the ordinance.

The law would allow landowners to transfer development rights from their conservation land - land often unsuitable for construction - to their agricultural land. The transfer would mean that a landowner could develop one house for every 3 acres instead of one for every 20 acres - the zoning standard for farmland since 1978.

The proposed revised language says: "The created cluster will be designed to preserve the most tillable acreage possible." The proposal also deletes critical areas - such as wetlands along streams - from the total conservation acreage that could be transferred.The board county commissioners are to discuss the proposed revisions with the county planning staff Jan. 24.

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