Views differ on growth restraint

Commissioners see flaws in ordinance's proposed revisions

Carroll County

July 28, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After months of discussions about restraining development in Carroll, one commissioner wants to scrap the county's growth-control ordinance and start over. Another is ready to adopt proposed revisions to strengthen the law. The third is preparing his own plan.

Like many who spoke critically at a public hearing last week on the proposed revisions, the commissioners seem to be all over the map on how to get a handle on the county's burgeoning growth, which is overwhelming schools, roads, public utilities and emergency services.

Four years ago, the previous board of commissioners tried to curb growth with an ordinance that set limits on development. But loopholes have allowed new construction to exceed the limit of 1,000 homes a year, and the commissioners are pursuing revisions to strengthen the law.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said the revised ordinance - which would cut annual building permits in half - doesn't go far enough in addressing the problems and she is "almost ready to throw the thing into the shredder and start over."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he has drafted revisions that he will detail in a letter to all eight towns before making his ideas public. "Everybody has solutions, but they can't tell us how those would work," Dell said. "If the towns cooperate, my plan will work."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said she is willing to consider suggestions about what the county should do "besides chucking the whole thing."

"There are still flaws, but we have accomplished a lot by reducing the number of recorded lots," Frazier said, referring to a change that would cut annual housing permits in half.

Several residents who spoke at the hearing Thursday night called the proposed revisions weak and vague, while builders said the county was creating one of the most heavily regulated real estate markets in the state.

The hearing aired the proposed changes, including halving the annual number of building permits and deferring projects as long as three years, until the county can finance new schools, utilities and roads.

The original law also called for the establishment of a central electronic file to provide easy access to information on all building projects throughout the county. That database was never created.

"What was the annual review of permits based on, when there was no database?" asked Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, who is running for a county commissioner seat.

Stronger measures

Most speakers called for stronger measures, such as rescinding permits in congested areas - particularly Eldersburg and Mount Airy; raising development impact fees; and rezoning to discourage development in agricultural areas.

"People often don't understand what we can and can't do," Dell said. "You cannot legally charge impact fees that would be greater than the facility you need."

Frank Johnson, Mount Airy council president, said the county must address two provisions he called catastrophic: permits can still be issued years in advance and developers can apply for a hardship waiver, if their projects are rejected. There is no definition of what would be a hardship.

Inadvertent problem

Because the law would hinder development in populated areas, a state planning official said the changes could lead to more construction in agricultural areas. James R. Gatto, manager of metropolitan planning for Maryland Department of Planning, read a letter from Roy Kienitz, department secretary.

"Our analysis indicates the ordinance would be only marginally effective in slowing the pace of growth," Kienitz wrote. "In the short term, it may inadvertently direct development away from several areas planned for growth and toward the agricultural and conservation zones."

Frazier said, "Once again, the state showed it does not know what it is talking about." Growth is occurring according to the county's master plan, she said.

The commissioners will review all the comments and schedule another meeting with the towns before voting on the revisions.

Another hard look

"What stood out for me was the need to take another hard look at the ordinance," Gouge said. "The most important thing is to work with the towns, the community, all the people. There are shortcomings in the ordinance, including definitions that are not clear. We definitely need to put together a database and keep it going.

"Ethically, we should not vote on this until we have discussed it further, particularly with the towns," Gouge said.

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