Land law may revert to original intention

Proposed changes would make new old

February 13, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

A new round of proposed revisions would remove aspects of a contentious Carroll County zoning law that prompted state planners to threaten decertification of the county's widely praised farmland preservation program.

In expressing general approval of the revisions, the Carroll commissioners -- including Robin Bartlett Frazier, the law's most vocal proponent -- acknowledged that after a long and, at times, bitter struggle, the county's zoning code probably will read much the way it did before the law was passed in September.

As it's worded now, the law changes the method for calculating the number of residential lots available on land zoned for conservation. It gives landowners the potential to develop more of their land by allowing the rights for those lots to be transferred to land zoned for agricultural use.

The law, state planing officials contend, could lead to an extra 4,300 homes on the county's rural land. In a letter Dec. 6 to the commissioners, state Secretary of Planning Roy W. Kienitz called it "the single largest step backward in rural land protection in Maryland in recent memory."

In an ultimatum designed to force amendments to the law, Kienitz threatened to decertify the county's preservation program.

Under the proposed revisions, however, the method for calculating the number of residential lots available on land zoned for conservation would revert to the way it was before September. Landowners would be afforded only as many lots as they could demonstrably carve from conservation land in plots of at least 3 acres or more.

"I think that's a reasonable compromise," said Frazier, who until yesterday had been the staunchest defender of the existing law.

The revisions would allow landowners to cluster residential lots at a minimum size of 1 acre each and would allow clustered subdivisions to stretch across zoning boundaries. But the revisions would not require clustering on subdivisions confined exclusively to land zoned for conservation.

The revised law would offer landowners a more flexible mechanism for putting a proposed subdivision on the best possible plot of land without creating any extra lot rights, county staff members said.

The commissioners seem uncertain about language regarding potential uses for land remaining after a subdivision has been developed. They agree that remaining land should not be further subdivided and said yesterday they would like to see an incentive in the law that would encourage landowners to put remaining land in permanent preservation.

The revised law is still too complicated for many people to understand and offers the county no aid to clarify how many additional lots would be developed over time, said Gerald Ryan of Westminster, who attended yesterday's meeting. Ryan favors scrapping the current law and redrafting from scratch a law that would clarify every landowner's lot rights.

But Commissioner Donald I. Dell said that with the proposed revisions offered yesterday, the commissioners are close to achieving a compromise that will satisfy almost everyone.

Now, they await comments on the revisions from the county's planning commission, scheduled to discuss the matter Tuesday, and from state planning officials. The commissioners will schedule a public hearing on the revised law and, 10 days after the hearing, vote on a final version. Dell said he hoped the process would be complete by the end of next month.

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