Solution to growth problem elusive

Panel hears 5 proposals

consensus not reached

May 31, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners continued discussions yesterday on how to slow residential growth in the county but, as has often been the case lately, closed their meeting with more questions than answers.

The board listened to five proposals from county employees, each of which would slow growth to the commissioners' stated goal of 1,000 new homes per year. But the plans either would feature extensive restrictions on building or simply accept the county's failure to control growth so far.

Given these unpleasant options, the commissioners proposed solutions and said they would wait for more concrete information before radically rewriting building laws.

They disagreed on how to slow growth.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier favored limiting any one subdivision to 50 new houses per two years instead of the current 50 houses per year.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell spoke of installing a hard cap of 1,000 building permits per year, but such a policy could lead to legal troubles with developers who have been promised certain amounts of lots, the county attorney said.

When Frazier made a motion to change the subdivision limit from 50 homes every year to 50 homes every two years, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge asked, "Isn't that premature? Shouldn't we have some idea where we're going first?"

No vote followed.

The commissioners and county staff members seem to agree that the county has not strictly enforced its 1997 goal of limiting growth to 6,000 homes over the following six years. Development has soared beyond that goal, and staff members have told the commissioners that only the addition of a hard cap would likely change that trend.

The county has committed to 659 new homes next year, 457 in 2004 and 447 in 2005. This doesn't account for proposed subdivisions in towns or for minor subdivisions of a few houses each. Such figures have begun to surface as staff members work to create a database of all development in the county, a project they acknowledge should have started five years ago.

County employees are examining land records in hopes of discovering how many houses have been approved but not built and how many houses could be built under current laws. They also hope to meet with officials from the county's eight municipalities to gauge future development plans for each. The commissioners cannot stop towns from approving new development, but they plan to count new homes in the towns against the total county allotment of 1,000 per year, so they hope towns will participate in the efforts to slow growth.

In the absence of hard data on overall growth, the county has approved any subdivision that would not strain basic services such as schools, water, sewer, fire and police.

County officials feel they've done a good job preventing such services from becoming strained. For example, building in South Carroll will have to slow during the next five years because of an increasingly strained water supply. But such specific restrictions are no longer enough, county officials said.

"We focused too much on adequate facilities and overcommitted on developments we really should have controlled," said Richard A. Owings, chief of the county's Bureau of Development Review. "That's what blew us out of the water."

Owings told the commissioners he believes the county's concurrency management ordinance, which addresses the growth rate, needs serious reworking.

Before their inconclusive break, the commissioners said they plan to meet again to address the subject in two or three weeks.

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