State planning officials said they were pleasantly surprised that the Carroll commissioners denied a series of rezoning requests Wednesday night at a meeting that many feared would prompt another confrontation between the state and county over land-use issues.
The commissioners voted with state recommendations on 15 of 16 parcels, though they did not acknowledge the state's position when making their decisions. State officials had worried that the 16 rezonings could open about 400 acres of agricultural and conservation land to commercial, industrial and residential development. Many of the properties are in the environmentally sensitive Liberty Reservoir watershed.
"I think that by and large, they did the right thing," said State Secretary of Planning Roy Kienitz, who discouraged the rezonings in an Oct. 8 letter to the commissioners. "I think we did what we do best, which is shine the bright light on the situation. When decisions are made in the light of day with an understanding of everyone's point of view, that's when the right decisions are made."
Kienitz and other state officials have clashed repeatedly with the commissioners on land-use issues.
The commissioners made the decisions in the context of a comprehensive rezoning that addressed 49 parcels throughout the county. Though the rezonings have been on the table for about two years or more in some cases, the meeting Wednesday had become central to a movement asking lame-duck Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier not to make major policy decisions during their last months in office.
In separate letters, Kienitz and the eight commissioner candidates asked Dell and Frazier to leave decisions on the rezoning and other matters to the next board, which will take office in early December. Before the meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge read the letter she and the seven other candidates had signed. She refused to vote for any of the proposed rezonings because she said any changes should be made by the next board.
Dell and Frazier defended their right to continue making policy. Dell said he has been offended by suggestions that the two stop doing their jobs and called the letter Gouge read "asinine."
The one rezoning the commissioners supported against state recommendation involves a 13-acre strip off Route 91 in Finksburg that will shift from a conservation classification to an industrial classification. Known as the Kibler 2 property, the land borders a swath zoned for industrial use but also contains a stream and falls within the Liberty Reservoir watershed. The owners have not offered specific development plans for the space.
Democratic commissioner candidate Neil Ridgely said the Finksburg Planning Area Council, a citizens group representing the area, might ask the state to contest the Kibler rezoning because it falls within the watershed.
But Ridgely said he was relieved that the commissioners didn't rezone more properties.
"I was really pleased to see them turn down so many requests in the Finksburg watershed," he said.