New home construction in Carroll already has exceeded the county's self-imposed limit of 6,000 homes in six years - and the fifth year in the count does not end until June 30 - and the commissioners are asking towns to help them control growth.
"We are meeting with you today to let you know the county's dilemma and how we are trying to work," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "We have to work with the building permits issued. ... We have to get residential development in line with our ability to build infrastructure."
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge told town officials that the county must decide if it is going to live with its 1,000-homes-a-year goal, set in 1997. The limit was not mandatory but a countywide target that includes residential development in Carroll's eight towns. At the 1,000-homes-a-year rate, Carroll's population is projected to reach 200,000 by 2020.
"The caps were not tight enough right from the beginning, when [the policy] started," said Gouge, who was not in office in 1997. "There were already houses in the pipeline. We started off with a nightmare."
The commissioners are averse to imposing a moratorium on residential construction and have asked the towns to help find a solution to the burgeoning growth that is clogging roads and crowding schools.
"We would need to take a year off to maintain at 6,000 because we have already done that in five years," said Terri Jones, assistant county attorney. "If we did that, my guess is that when we lifted the cap, everyone would be in for a permit and there would be another spike."
The county rated its infrastructure such as roads and schools as adequate while issuing 6,186 building permits since July 1997. Most municipal officials have said towns have not contributed to the excess growth. Westminster is home to 11 percent of the county's population and accounts for about 7 percent of the annual building activity, said Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff.
"The problem now is that there is no enforcement of the goal," said Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, who is a candidate for county commissioner. "It has not been met in any year. The goal is meaningless."
Town leaders said they are willing to work with the county on growth controls.
"We are very interested in working with the county," said Councilman Frank Johnson of Mount Airy, a town struggling with crowded schools. "We are willing to reduce our building permits, but what can we do right now?"
Carroll's master plan directs growth to the towns and planned growth areas such as Eldersburg and Finksburg.
"The master plan is being followed, and 75 percent of the growth is occurring in community planning areas," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "We want a level playing field for those trying to develop lots. Without cooperation from the towns, it is difficult for us to keep to our numbers. Our plan is working, but the 1,000 houses a year is not working."
The county planning staff presented several options yesterday, including a moratorium on building - a measure Frazier said "creates havoc with our economy."
"The only way to continue with this arbitrary number is a moratorium, and that is not the answer. It is part of the problem," Frazier said. "The answer is a modest amount of controlled growth, and we do that through zoning, land use, adequate facilities and the number of recorded lots and permits."
Dell said the infrastructure is in place for all the permits issued. He wants to start anew July 1 with the 1,000 annual limit and develop "something fair and equitable" with the towns to meet the goal.
County and town planners agreed to meet as soon as possible.
"We can sit down and come up with a better solution," Nichols said. "Everybody has to have a voice."