Panel resists land plan

County board cool to zoning changes outside town limits

300 properties at issue

But leaders see status quo as threat to infrastructure


March 20, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Hampstead leaders expressed irritation yesterday after members of the Carroll County Planning Commission objected to significant aspects of a proposed plan for land use in and around the town.

Town leaders and county planning staff have spent two years composing the plan, which would change land-use designations from residential to agricultural for hundreds of properties outside town limits. The designations need to be changed to limit sprawling developments that would strain Hampstead's infrastructure, town officials said.

But county planning commission members said they might not want to recommend the changes because they believe county zoning of the properties outside town limits is fine as is.

"If that's the stance the planning commission wants to take, then it ceases to be a joint planning process," said Hampstead Town Manager Ken Decker. "You'd have a town plan and a county plan, and the two wouldn't agree, which defeats the whole purpose of what we've been working on. If they want to do a comprehensive plan that flies in the face of Smart Growth, that's fine, but I don't think that's a road we want to go down."

Decker and county planners estimated that about 300 properties outside of town could be affected by proposed changes in the comprehensive plan.

Some planning commission members showed equal vehemence expressing their points.

If the planning commission recommends the plan, "We would be changing zonings outside of the Hampstead city limits, and we don't want to do that," said commission member Ed Wheatley. "I'm not happy with what's going on here. I'm not happy at all."

Wheatley said he might be comfortable recommending use designations for land that could one day be annexed by the town, but the proposed plan includes land that probably will never be annexed.

The comprehensive planning process is a periodic review of land-use designations for all the properties in and around a town. Hampstead and county planning officials have spent two years drafting a document that outlines land-use philosophies and specific designations for individual properties. The understanding has been that Hampstead will have final say on properties within town lines, and the county will have final say on properties outside the town lines.

But several people who own property outside town attended a public hearing last month and objected to proposed zoning changes, which they said would cost them land equity. This spurred Wheatley and several of his colleagues on the five-member commission to wonder whether they should recommend changes to properties that aren't and probably never will be in the town.

The county commissioners have no interest in rezoning properties that will be outside town lines, said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who attended yesterday's meeting. Frazier said the county's recently approved master plan includes no recommendation for a mass rezoning of residential properties.

"We decided the zoning in the county was fine the way it was," she said.

That logic is flawed, Decker said, because development on residential land outside town would presume the town's willingness to extend sewer lines and other infrastructure to the new homes. The town has no intention of extending its infrastructure, however, so zoning of properties around it should reflect that unwillingness, he said.

Hampstead leaders said they would understand if the planning commission wanted to tinker with the proposed changes for a few properties, but a huge revision of the plan would be harder to take.

For planning commissioners, "to make such a blanket statement [not wanting to change any properties] certainly flies in the face of Smart Growth and the recommendations of their own staff," said Hampstead Councilman Haven Shoemaker.

Shoemaker said that if county leaders stick to their guns, he could envision the town approving only the part of the plan that addresses properties within Hampstead.

Some planning commission members said they want to see more detailed property-by-property information before recommending or rejecting the proposed comprehensive plan. They said that once they have that information, they would schedule a work session on the plan or schedule time to discuss it at their meeting next month.

In other news, Hampstead leaders have decided not to change the zoning designation of 267 acres owned by Carroll County General Hospital from industrial to environmentally protected. The land, all within Hampstead limits, contains a 72-acre bog turtle habitat, and town planners originally argued that the zoning designation should change to reflect the endangered status of the turtle.

The hospital's leaders balked at the change because they expect to sell much of the land to the State Highway Administration as a right of way for a proposed Route 30 bypass of Hampstead. Hospital officials worry that the state would offer a lower price for environmentally protected land than it would for land with potential for industrial development.

After considering the hospital's argument that the land could support light industrial development and the turtle habitat, Hampstead leaders decided to leave the zoning unchanged, Decker said. Town planners will draft a series of environmental regulations to protect the turtles.

In other planning commission business, the panel voted 3-2 to approve plans for Princess Shopping Center on Liberty Road (Route 26) in Eldersburg, less than a mile west of bustling Route 32.

Developer Michael Stavlas said the shopping center might contain a jeweler, several restaurants, a grocery store and other shops. It is to be built on a 9-acre parcel next to Holy Trinity Cemetery, which contains the tombstones of many prominent figures of Carroll's past.

Sun staff writer Brenda J. Buote contributed to this article.

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