Rezoning decisions could be revisited

Commissioners will meet today to consider reversal of 9 Dell, Frazier changes

January 28, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

In a move that some landowners say amounts to a doublecross, the Carroll commissioners will consider today reversing a series of zoning changes approved by their predecessors.

The property owners are angry because they waited two years to secure permission for the rezonings, which would open nine parcels around the county to commercial and industrial use, only to watch a new board of commissioners call the changes into question a few weeks later.

The commissioners said their lame-duck predecessors never should have voted on the rezonings, but that logic has done little to soothe the landowners, who say they deserve a straight answer from their government.

"I don't see how they can vote one way and then come back and take it away from us," Rockwood Lee, whose 1-acre property along Liberty Road is among the nine in question, said yesterday. "It's an interesting precedent that they would be setting because I don't think things can be done that way."

In October, then-Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier approved a long list of rezonings that had been pending for more than two years. Nine of those rezonings disregarded recommendations from the county planning commission.

When Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones replaced Dell and Frazier a few weeks later, they and incumbent Julia Walsh Gouge embarked on a blitz of decisions that would negate the Dell and Frazier actions, including an announcement that they would reconsider the nine rezonings.

The owners of the properties and their attorneys complained at a hearing Jan. 15, telling the commissioners they were acting unfairly, irresponsibly and possibly illegally.

The original rezoning was executed properly, they said.

"It was a very open process in which everybody had a say, and then in the end, some people got it and some people didn't," said Clark Shaffer, a Westminster attorney representing James D. Kibler, a property owner. "To come back after an election and take it away from them is not fair."

Minnich and Jones say they haven't reached a decision on the properties' fates. Both said Dell and Frazier acted hastily in approving the rezonings. But both said they also would rather not create uncertainty in the lives of Carroll property owners.

"These were bad zonings that never should have gone through," Minnich said. "But it's possible that by coming in and reconsidering them, we're setting a precedent we don't want to be setting. We need to act very cautiously because two bads don't make a good."

Gouge has been recovering from shoulder surgery and was unavailable for comment on the rezonings.

The nine properties, ranging in size from less than an acre to 14 acres, are scattered across the county. In most cases, they would change from agricultural or conservation classifications to industrial classifications that would allow development. The properties were on a list of more than 50 parcels submitted to the commissioners as part of a comprehensive rezoning that was designed to align land-use designations across the county with intended uses.

Some of the proposed changes drew the ire of state planning officials, but Dell and Frazier did not approve most of those rezonings.

The Kibler 2 property, a 13-acre strip off Route 91 in Finksburg that would shift from a conservation classification to an industrial classification, has drawn the most scrutiny among the nine remaining parcels. State planning officials and the Finksburg Planning Area Council (FPAC), a citizens group, have said industry has no place on the land, which contains a stream and falls within the Liberty Reservoir watershed.

"FPAC believes that the conservation zoning on the Kibler site is appropriate for now in that it at least prevents heavy industrial use on environmentally sensitive land," said Neil Ridgely, a spokesman for the group.

Kibler wants to expand a construction business from a neighboring parcel, Shaffer said.

Most of the other parcels are smaller and have drawn little attention as individual cases. In written comments to the commissioners, planning staffers said they oppose the rezonings because they would create islands of business and industry in residential or environmentally sensitive areas.

After Dell and Frazier were defeated in the Republican primary in September, Jones, Minnich and Gouge asked them not to rule on the rezonings. But Dell and Frazier said the landowners had waited too long for decisions from the commissioners and acted anyway.

Some attorneys, such as Shaffer, have questioned whether the new commissioners have legal standing to overturn individual zoning decisions by the previous board.

Minnich and Jones agreed that the decision might create an unintended legal precedent, and said they will consider that possibility before voting.

"That's why we're being careful and hearing all the information we can on this issue," Jones said.

The commissioners' discussion of the rezonings is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. at the County Office Building in Westminster.

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