Departing officials to vote on rezoning

Eight hopefuls ask Frazier, Dell to refrain from making decisions

October 23, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Despite opposition from the state and all eight candidates vying for their jobs, Carroll's two lame-duck commissioners plan to vote tonight on several land-use decisions that could turn hundreds of acres of farmland into factories and shopping centers.

In all, the commissioners will consider about 50 requests to alter zoning on parcels throughout the county. State planning officials are particularly concerned about 16 parcels that, if rezoning is approved, would make about 400 acres of agricultural and conservation land available for commercial, industrial and residential uses.

The county's planning commission has recommended against those 16 rezonings, most of which involve properties in Finksburg and South Carroll. Many are in the Liberty Reservoir watershed.

"Carroll County has a long, proud tradition of respecting the value of agriculture as part of its economy and its character," said Maryland Secretary of Planning Roy W. Kienitz, who said he might attend the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the County Office Building in Westminster.

"The rezonings are a concerted effort to change the character of the county in a contradiction to everyone's wishes. The things that residents love are precisely the things that are at risk," Kienitz said.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who lost in last month's Republican primary, repeatedly have said that they will finish all old business - including the rezonings that have been in the works for nearly two years - before leaving office in early December.

"Their mantra all along has been that they are going to proceed with business," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said.

In a letter to the commissioners that is to be delivered today, the eight commissioner candidates have asked Dell and Frazier to refrain from making decisions "that could adversely affect the future of Carroll County."

Gouge, who won in the primary, is among the eight candidates seeking the three seats Nov. 5. In light of the letter, which she signed, Gouge said she would vote against all the rezonings.

"These rezonings could put the next board in a position that could jeopardize the beginning of the term," she said. "It could be devastating." Such delays in action are not unprecedented, she said. The board of commissioners whose term ended in 1998 deferred action on a comprehensive master plan to the current board.

This month, Kienitz asked the commissioners to leave the rezonings to the next board.

"Voters have said that they want something other than what they are getting," Kienitz said yesterday. "The law does not say it, but common sense says don't rezone right before an election."

Republican Dean Minnich, who won the most votes in the primary, said the commissioners are wasting time and taxpayer money with the last-minute actions.

"They are doing things people don't want them to do or else they would have voted for them," Minnich said. "There is no question that the new board will have to patch up or reverse these decisions."

The new board might not be able to undo the damage, Democrat Jeannie Nichols said.

"Why are they in such a rush to rezone to residential when we are losing industry like London Fog and when they have allowed industrial land to be converted for retail?" Nichols said, referring to the manufacturer's intent to vacate its Eldersburg headquarters. "Taking these actions as lame ducks is wrong, especially if something can't be reversed."

Democrat Neil Ridgely called the decision to move forward "despicable behavior."

"They must feel inclined to finish business for their supporters," Ridgely said.

The incoming board is best suited to making such far-reaching decisions, Kienitz said.

Undoing a rezoning is "a lengthy, involved process that could gum up the machinery of county government for many months," he said.

"I have no indication of what the results of this meeting might be, but common sense indicates the commissioners should hold back," Kienitz said. "These actions conflict with everyone's idea of Carroll County."

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