Stricter growth plan sought

Leaders from Freedom, Finksburg offer revision

Loopholes in law targeted

July 26, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Leaders from two of the county's fastest-growing communities asked the commissioners last night to restrain growth, raise development impact fees and cancel plans to build a $16 million water treatment plant in South Carroll.

The comments from the Finksburg and Freedom areas' citizens councils were made during a public hearing on the county's proposed revisions to the commissioners' growth ordinance, known as concurrency management. Created in 1998, the ordinance has tried to ensure that public infrastructure - from roads to schools - keeps pace with development.

John Lopez, vice chairman of the Finksburg Planning Area Council, read a letter from the two council chairs demanding "immediate actions to stem growth and protect our quality of life."

Lopez was among about 50 people who attended the hearing at the County Office Building in Westminster. The hearing occurred after recent meetings between the commissioners and town leaders on the issue of restraining growth.

Under the county's proposed revisions, building permits for each subdivision would be limited to 25 a year, down from 50. That limit could be 15 if the area is coping with crowded schools and roads or struggling with inadequate utilities.

The revisions also give the county the right to defer development projects for as long as 36 months or until relief, such as a school or water treatment plant, can be funded and built. Only when relief is imminent can a builder proceed in the development review process. Among planning councils' recommendations to stem growth were:

Close zoning loopholes that allow development in conservation areas.

Cancel construction of Piney Run treatment plant, which would spur development in South Carroll.

Limit growth to fewer than 1,000 homes a year and increase impact fees charged on new construction.

The recommendations closely parallel those of Mount Airy Town Council President Frank Johnson, who expressed grave reservations with the county's proposals, particularly a waiver provision for dire hardship that "would open Pandora's box. Everyone would have a dire need," he said. "You cannot sacrifice people to a formula that allows development to proceed."

The commissioners enacted the law nearly four years ago, hoping to limit construction to 1,000 homes a year for a total of 6,000 homes through 2004. But gaps in the law have allowed construction to exceed the goal by more than 1,000 homes.

Portable classrooms surround nearly all county schools. Many key intersections are severely congested according to state highway standards. Fire and emergency services in the county's most populated areas are strained. In South Carroll, where the population has tripled in the past 25 years, residents are spending another summer with restrictions on outdoor water use.

"The process should be driven by a long-term plan," said Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, who is running for county commissioner. "We are doing it backward. We have to decide where we want to go, instead of pitting people against each other. More than 13 percent of the people in this county are in the construction trade."

Developers have complained that the ordinance will mean delays of several years before they can begin a project.

"You are setting numbers into law without investigating the fiscal implications," said Tom Ballentine, director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

The commissioners will keep the record open for 10 days before voting on the changes.

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