State warns against any last-minute rezonings

Lame ducks Frazier, Dell scoff at watchdog effort

October 09, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The state secretary of planning warned departing Carroll County commissioners in a letter yesterday not to make sweeping decisions on growth policy during their last weeks in office, renewing old frictions between state and county and becoming the latest watchdog to discourage last-minute decisions by the lame-duck board.

Addressing pending rezoning decisions for 16 properties, Secretary Roy W. Kienitz wrote, "In light of the results of the election held a few weeks ago, which many felt was decided on growth issues, we do not feel it would be appropriate for the sitting commissioners to rezone these properties."

Kienitz said he wrote the letter as a pre-emptive move because county residents had expressed concerns that Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, both soundly defeated in last month's Republican primary, might try to cram in significant policy decisions before their terms end late next month.

The planning secretary joined a growing group of town officials, community activists and a fellow commissioner who worry that Dell and Frazier, long a controlling two-vote majority on contentious issues, are rushing forward on votes at the expense of the majority that voted them out.

Kienitz, one of many state officials who have sparred with the two commissioners over Smart Growth in the past, said he wanted them to know state officials will try to block large-scale rezoning of farmland.

`Safe than sorry'

"It's sort of a better-safe-than-sorry strategy," he said in a phone interview yesterday. "If these issues are in the light of day, that makes it less likely that anything big will happen."

Frazier said the letter didn't mean much to her. "It's just another example of the state overstepping its bounds," she said.

Dell said he would review Kienitz's specific recommendations but dismissed the notion that he and Frazier shouldn't make policy for the rest of their terms.

"As long as the people of this county are paying for my services, they're going to get my services," he said.

Kienitz is the latest official to suggest that Dell and Frazier must be watched closely during their last weeks in office. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, the one incumbent who survived last month's Republican primary, said the two are deliberately rushing to vote on significant decisions while they can.

"We shouldn't be putting any new problems on the next board if we don't have to," Gouge said, praising Kienitz's letter as a reasonable expression of concern.

County activists who have criticized Dell and Frazier the past four years also said they worry about the duo's final days.

"Our antennae are up for Dell and Frazier," said Ross Dangel, spokesman for Freedom Area Citizens Council, an Eldersburg-based group. "The concern is that even though there's been a decisive referendum against their leadership, they could still make changes that aren't supported by the citizens who voted or by the next administration."

Dell and Frazier have drawn fire in recent weeks for a pair of decisions. One vote could scuttle a long-planned redevelopment project in Hampstead. The other would put the job of running the county's airport out to bid, even though the current operators want to continue managing the facility.

Both moves were made over strong objections from Gouge. Dell and Frazier defended their votes as choices that had to be made, primary defeat or not.

"Our job remains pretty much the same," Frazier said yesterday. "As long as we have time to research an issue enough to make a good decision, we make it."

Dell said he and Frazier have not created new issues in recent weeks.

"There are issues on the table that this board started, and I'd like to finish them up," he said.

But Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, who wrote in the town newsletter that he hoped Dell and Frazier would lose their re-election bids, said he saw political retribution in the duo's decision to put the old Hampstead Elementary School up for auction. The town had spent more than a year working with a development team that planned to transform the aging school into a low-cost senior housing center that would be the centerpiece of Hampstead's downtown revitalization efforts.

Dell and Frazier said developers' quest to obtain state tax credits for the project had gone on too long, but Nevin noted that the county had spent years doing nothing with the deteriorating building.

"Why is time all of a sudden of such the essence?" Nevin asked.

Proceed with caution

Kienitz, in his letter, urged the commissioners to proceed with caution in crafting a new zoning classification that would allow the county planning commission to carve out spaces for business parks in farm, residential or other noncommercial areas. Kienitz has said the plan could violate Smart Growth principles by creating traffic-heavy areas outside of towns.

Kienitz also wrote that he is concerned about 16 requests that, if approved, would rezone about 400 acres of agricultural and conservation lands for commercial, industrial and residential use. The county's planning commission has recommended against those 16 rezonings, and Kienitz wrote, "It seems clear that the incoming board of commissioners, whatever its composition, is best suited to make these decisions. Removing many hundreds of acres of land from the county's base of productive farmland ... should not be done in a last-minute rush."

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