Rancor absent at growth meeting

But commissioners, towns differ in approach

Development `got out of hand'

Carroll County

July 21, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The bickering about development issues that has marked county and town relations the past few months was swept away in a swell of good will when the Carroll County commissioners met with municipal leaders to discuss growth.

The atmosphere at the meeting Thursday in Westminster was so convivial that Mount Airy Councilman Chris DeColli said he felt "like we are all holding hands and singing `Kumbaya.'"

But DeColli quickly burst the bubble.

"What action are we walking away with, so we can show we are making progress?" he asked. "We are elected for action, to show results to our citizens. What do I tell my constituents?"

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said the councilman could say that "the county is cutting growth in half and lowering it further in areas with inadequacies."

Terri A. Jones, assistant county attorney, spent nearly an hour of the meeting on a review of proposed revisions to a growth-control ordinance, known as concurrency management. The changes would cut in half the number of building permits issued annually, cap development in areas with inadequate facilities and create a database that will help track growth throughout the county.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge would close any loopholes in the law by counting every house that has a building permit and eliminating any exceptions the ordinance now allows. Small subdivisions built in the agriculture zone are not counted, for example.

Dell has a plan

Commissioner Donald I. Dell went a step further, promising he had a more extensive plan to stem growth. He would not discuss specifics until he has refined the numbers and discussed the plan with the other commissioners.

"It is a numbers plan where we would evaluate each town and each area of the county," Dell said. "We would look at each active building permit issued. I think we can keep to our 1,000-permits-a-year goal."

The county has exceeded by more than 1,000 homes the goal set in the ordinance, and the growth is taking its toll. Portable classrooms surround most county schools. Roads in many areas are severely congested, and emergency services are barely meeting the demand. Water shortages trouble South Carroll, which has had restrictions on outdoor use since April.

"Why is this so complicated?" asked Frank Johnson, president of the Mount Airy Town Council. "If facilities are not in place, we don't build."

Mount Airy recently won its battle for a new elementary school and is carefully monitoring its well-water supplies. The town recently imposed a moratorium on development through June 2003.

Dell went so far as to say that the county "has to back off in the Westminster and Freedom areas," the county's most populated locations, but did not hint at a moratorium.

"The concurrency ordinance we have will work," Dell said. "We just didn't have a database and it got out of hand, I have to admit."

Another proposal

Johnson has developed a six-point proposal for growth management that includes rescinding building permits in areas with inadequate facilities. He is crisscrossing the county asking all the town councils to support the effort.

The county's master plan for growth directs development to the eight towns and to community areas such as South Carroll and Finksburg.

Westminster Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro said the county has zoned too much land outside the towns - where there are no public utilities or services - for residential development. "Hundreds of homes are springing up in developments across the county," he said. "Don't let it proceed [outside the towns]."

Frazier, who served on the county planning commission before she was elected commissioner, said, "You can't tell someone they can't use their property. It is unconstitutional."

Database details

The commissioners asked for the towns to provide information on development within their borders now and into the future, statistics that will go into a database accessible to all.

"With the database, we can better manage facilities and know when an area is approaching inadequacy and if relief is on line," Jones said. "It would include all commercial and residential development."

The commissioners also polled town officials for their policies on development. Several in the audience urged the commissioners to bring representatives of unincorporated Freedom and Finksburg, nearly 50,000 residents, into the discussion.

"Most towns have regulations in place to make sure growth slows, if inadequacies are there," Gouge said. "But, where will all this growth end up?"

The commissioners will hold a public hearing Thursday on the revisions to the growth management ordinance and will organize another discussion with the towns soon after. They also will schedule the mayors' quarterly meetings in the evenings to allow more public participation.

John R. Lopez, vice president of the Finksburg Planning Area Council, praised the spirit of cooperation that marked the meeting but he wondered how long it would last. "They could not even agree on a date for the next meeting," he said.

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