Revised zoning rules OK'd

Development rights can be transferred, but limits are stricter

April 05, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After months of contentious debate, the Carroll commissioners passed a significantly amended zoning ordinance yesterday that will allow landowners to transfer development rights to agricultural areas.

However, the revisions require developers to cluster the lots to preserve as much agricultural land as possible - a change that appeased the ordinance's opponents, including the state.

The board voted 2-0 with Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge abstaining. Her colleagues refused her request to defer the vote until the revised ordinance could be posted on the county's Web site.

Gouge said she abstained "not because I have no faith in your work, but on principle. I want the public to see and understand the ordinance before we vote."

The zoning ordinance, approved six months ago, generated strong opposition from those who envisioned residential subdivisions sprawling across farmland. The state entered the debate and threatened to withhold money from Carroll's prized farm preservation program. State planning officials called the law a severe blow to Maryland's land preservation effort.

The law created the potential for increased development by altering the method for calculating the number of residential lots permissible on land zoned for conservation - development rights that could be transferred to agricultural land. In theory, the owner of 30 acres of conservation land could transfer development rights and build 10 houses on 30 acres of agricultural land, where previous zoning would have allowed only one house.

According to revisions adopted yesterday, the same 10 houses could be built, but they would have to be clustered on 10 acres, leaving 20 acres of preserved land. The commissioners reverted the formula to its pre-September calculation.

Landowners also would be permitted only as many lots as they could demonstrably carve from conservation land in plots of 3 or more acres and could not include in their calculations conservation land that was unsuitable for building, such as wetlands or stream beds.

"We think we have reached a compromise solution that satisfies everybody," said Richard A. Owings, chief of the county's Bureau of Development Review, who helped draft the revisions. "The lots transferred must provide the same open space results. Developers have to prove more land will be left over than would have been had the rights to develop not been transferred."

The law still would allow landowners to cluster their available lots at a minimum size of 1 acre each and spread those clusters across zoning lines, from conservation to agriculture. Clustering would afford developers extra flexibility to put subdivisions on the best plots and preserve as much land as possible.

"Clustering was the issue from the very beginning," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

The revision also stipulates single ownership of all land involved in a transfer. Dell applauded county staff members for an admirable job on the revisions and pushed to have the law passed yesterday.

"We have had hearings and public information," Dell said. "The citizens have had opportunities to tell us how they feel. If we dangle this any longer, we could just create more controversy."

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