Area growth limits revised

County commission OKs smaller numbers for development ordinance

Changes retroactive to July 1

Gouge's attempt to close agricultural land loophole blocked by Dell, Frazier

August 14, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After months of wrangling, the county commissioners strengthened Carroll's growth-control measures yesterday to reduce the number of homes built each year and to deter housing developments away from areas with inadequate schools and public services.

The revisions to Carroll's concurrency management ordinance, enacted in 1998 to ensure growth does not outpace the county's ability to provide schools, roads and services, take effect immediately and are retroactive to July 1.

Nearly 700 homes are set for construction in the county - outside municipal limits - next year. It was unclear yesterday what impact the revisions will have on the overall number of homes to be constructed in future years.

The commissioners reached the unanimous decision after a public hearing and several meetings with town officials, who urged stronger measures.

"I hope the towns will follow suit and implement these same limits. That way we'll be planning according to the maximum the towns can build," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier.

The revisions approved by the commissioners will:

Reduce the number of lots a developer can record in any one subdivision to 50 every two years. Recordations precede obtaining building permits.

Reduce the number of building permits allowed per subdivision to 25 a year.

Limit the number of building permits allowed for houses per subdivision to 15 a year in areas considered critical because of crowded schools, overtaxed roads or water shortages.

County planners also will create a database that details the location and number of homes in each subdivision, including residential construction within the county's eight towns, giving planners a better handle on residential construction.

However, under the revised law, several exceptions that are not taken into account, including homes built on agricultural land, remain.

Concerned about the county's ability to pay for the demands created by growth, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge unsuccessfully sought to close loopholes by proposing counting every house that has a building permit.

"We don't know how much money we will have or how many facilities we can provide only three years from now for homes we have already OK'd," Gouge said. "Budget projections are very tight. If our income continues to nose-dive, we won't be able to provide for those new houses."

Schools in Mount Airy and Sykesville and water resources throughout South Carroll are stressed, she said. And she is concerned about emergency services throughout the county, which are provided primarily by a shrinking corps of volunteers.

Her colleagues disagreed, however, and her motion to eliminate exceptions to the ordinance was defeated 2-1.

"My analysis is that we are covered," said Frazier. "We have good planning and budget flexibility to provide. Our job is to prioritize."

Said Commissioner Donald I. Dell: "I am not changing the commitment made years ago to ag landowners. There's adequate facilities for the permits we have issued now."

Gouge predicted that leaving the loophole would create problems.

"I can't believe you are asking the towns to participate when we won't be counting all the lots in the county," she told Dell and Frazier. "You are setting up problems for planning."

Dell said he is continuing to work on a proposal to the towns, while reviewing their growth projections for the next five years.

Gouge was successful, however, in her efforts to make the revised ordinance retroactive to July 1. The development number reductions will apply to any projects that have come into the review process since that date.

When the commission enacted concurrency management in 1998, a six-year goal of limiting new homes to 1,000 a year was set, but before the fifth fiscal year ended last month, they were several hundred homes over that limit.

As the commissioners have struggled with revising the ordinance, the towns have made several counterproposals, including rescinding existing permits in areas where infrastructure is inadequate. Municipal leaders intend to formally endorse those measures Tuesday at Westminster City Hall.

The county commission has scheduled a meeting with town leaders Aug. 28.

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