Business park zoning is weighed by county

Critics say commissioners should reject flawed plan

October 30, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

County officials, including two lame-duck commissioners, will consider a new zoning designation tonight to create business parks that would attract light industry and provide professional job opportunities.

County planners drafted the ordinance with the goal of keeping more of Carroll's working residents closer to home. Nearly 60 percent of the work force in the county leaves every day for jobs elsewhere.

But the proposed ordinance is too vague and allows the county too much latitude in land use, say critics. State planners have said the zoning would lead to widespread development of farmland.

State officials have asked Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who lost their bids for re-election in the primary, to refrain from making sweeping decisions in the waning days of their terms. Both have said they plan to tie up loose ends, such as this ordinance, which has been in the works for several years.

The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the proposed "employment campuses" at 7 tonight in the County Office Building.

The board rarely votes immediately after a hearing and usually keeps the record open for several days before taking action.

"If people know and understand this ordinance, the hearing could be contentious," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who opposes the concept. "The biggest problem is that we can drop this zone on any area without a public hearing before the commissioners or the citizens. It might suit the guy who owns the property, but what about the people around him?"

The ordinance says that the campuses would be "aesthetically pleasing and well-designed" to mesh with their surroundings, which could be a farm or a residential subdivision. The centers could be built on a tract of at least 25 acres that is zoned for industry, housing, conservation or farmland, and that the county planning commission deemed acceptable.

"Campus zoning is a good concept, but without public input, to me, it is a disaster," Gouge said. "There could be a whole lot of judgment calls by the planning commission. It just does not give specifics."

The proposal also might infringe on a town's zoning authority, said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. Sykesville has drafted a letter of opposition that will be read into the record tonight, he said.

"This is a mistake and allows for willy-nilly planning," said Herman. "This idea of a floating zone shows a real lack of vision. The surrounding area has to be complementary. If the commissioners approve this, I hope that it can be undone."

Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, a Democrat who is running for commissioner, said, "You can't create economic development with zoning. It takes solid planning."

Montgomery and Baltimore counties have campus zoning, but with stringent guidelines and restrictions, said Matthew Candland, Sykesville town manager. He worked on the committee - appointed by the county Economic Development Commission - that helped to draft the ordinance, but he also opposes it. "This has no restrictions, and it gives developers carte blanche," he said.

The EDC proposed the campus zones hoping they would lend themselves to centers for high-tech businesses, satellite college classes or office parks.

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