Town officials draft plan to stem sprawl

6 measures contained in letter

municipalities seek to form alliance

`A good first step'

County and towns urged to work together

better planning recommended

Carroll County

July 10, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After months of bickering with Carroll's commissioners over growth management, several town officials have drafted a plan to stem sprawl throughout the county - and they're marshaling support from their colleagues.

Even as the commissioners worked yesterday to revise the county's growth-management law, one town councilman was circulating a letter calling for stronger action from the county.

Frank Johnson, president of the Mount Airy Town Council, drafted the letter, which lists six measures to control growth. He met Monday night with the Taneytown City Council to seek support for stricter regulations, better planning and more cooperation between the county and the towns. A second Mount Airy councilman was meeting with the Sykesville Town Council as part of the bid to form an alliance on growth controls.

"We must ensure that residential growth does not continue once facilities are not adequate and does not begin until new facilities will be available," Johnson wrote in a letter to the commissioners that he has asked other councils to endorse.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge called the letter "a good first step, a real positive" that could prove helpful in the commissioners' meeting July 18 with town leaders and planners.

"We have a real basis to work from," Gouge said. "The towns have some good ideas, although some are unworkable at this point."

Most difficult, she said, would be the recommendation to immediately rescind building permits in areas where facilities such as schools, roads and utilities are inadequate.

"That is probably impossible," she said. "There would be lots of lawsuits."

Attempts to reach Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier for comment were unsuccessful. Commissioner Donald I. Dell was ill and unavailable for comment yesterday.

Johnson's letter also called for controls on residential development throughout the county. Nearly three decades ago, the county adopted a policy of not counting building lots in agricultural areas when determining whether the adequate facilities law applies.

Dell and Frazier are adamant about maintaining the policy, which was designed to give farmers an edge in development. Gouge would like to see it changed.

"It means our numbers are not coming out right," said Gouge. "These lots are having an impact. We should be counting them."

Johnson, who has been vocal about growth controls in several recent meetings with county planners, intends to meet with officials from the other seven county municipalities.

Mount Airy Councilman John P. Medve met Monday with his counterparts in Sykesville to discuss Johnson's letter and found the Town Council unanimous in its support.

"This letter may be too nice, but it is a start," said Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, a candidate for county commissioner. "We want to cooperate with the county, but we won't take the blame for growth."

Westminster Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro read Johnson's letter yesterday and said, "I think Frank Johnson deserves a lot of credit for putting this letter together. He makes a lot of good points that could lead to a solid policy."

At Monday night's Common Council meeting in Westminster, Pecoraro reacted strongly to recent news articles describing how county commissioners are returning to their stance that towns should take responsibility for growth.

"It's just outrageous," Pecoraro said. He called county plans to match residential growth with adequate facilities "a smokescreen under which they want to subvert the county's master plan, which was designed to push development in and around towns."

Pecoraro asked his council colleagues to refute the county commissioners' claims that towns are causing the unbridled growth that is straining water, school and road resources.

"They've allowed incredible growth in the county vs. the municipalities, and now they want to cut off growth where it's supposed to take place - in the towns," Pecoraro said.

The commissioners and towns have been locked in debate over growth management for months. The mayors countered county claims that the towns were at the heart of the problems. Statistics show that more than two-thirds of residential development is occurring outside town limits. "Since 1998, 68 percent of the building permits, some 2,600 homes, have been outside the town planning areas," said Nichols.

Carroll's master plan directs growth to the towns and to planned growth areas in South Carroll, but new home construction has exceeded by more than 1,000 the county's six-year goal to limit development through June next year. Much of that growth has occurred outside the towns.

The proposed revisions to the county ordinance would force planners to "look out over the years and see areas where we are near capacity, where we need to slow down until we can get facilities on board," Richard A. Owings, director of the county bureau of development review, said at the commissioners' meeting yesterday.

Such foresight could prevent problems such as the one facing Sykesville, where the middle school is above capacity and soon will be filling seats with pupils from 250 recently approved homes, Gouge said.

The revisions discussed yesterday also would limit individual subdivisions to 25 permits a year, down from 50.

A public hearing on the revisions is set for July 25.

Sun staff writer Athima Chansanchai contributed to this article.

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