Thorny zoning changes stand

Commissioners decline to reverse prior decisions

`Create more problems'

Dell, Frazier had made lame-duck votes

Carroll County

January 29, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners decided yesterday not to reverse a series of zoning changes approved by their predecessors, saying they believed the decisions were ill-conceived but that overturning them would be unfair to property owners and possibly invite lawsuits.

The vote ended a process that saw landowners wait two years to secure the zoning changes, which will open nine parcels around the county to commercial and industrial use, and then become enraged when the new board of commissioners called those changes back into question last month.

The commissioners emphasized yesterday that they believed former Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier should never have voted on the zoning changes. But they said changing the zoning again would set a bad precedent of taking back decisions that are important to property owners.

"It would create more problems than it would solve for us to reverse zoning decisions by the previous board," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "I have to swallow hard in making this decision, because these changes, as they are, represent bad zoning."

Minnich called the zonings potentially harmful to the environment and sighed before casting his vote.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said the decision was difficult for her as well because she had run on promises to undo much of what Dell and Frazier had done.

"These are decisions that could affect the county in unfortunate ways," she said.

But Gouge said it was clear to her that property owners would sue if the commissioners overturned the zonings. "That certainly factored into our decision," she said.

Landowners and their attorneys packed the hearing room at the County Office Building yesterday but left quickly and quietly after the commissioners had given them the answer they wanted.

"We're pleased they chose to leave the zonings alone," said Clark Shaffer, attorney for one of the affected landowners, James D. Kibler. "It was obviously a soul-searching decision. We fully understand and will comply with all the environmental regulations on the property."

In October, Dell and Frazier approved rezonings that had been pending for more than two years, despite requests that as lame ducks, they leave the decision to the next board. Nine of the rezonings they approved went against recommendations from the planning commission.

When Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. took office a few weeks later, they and incumbent Gouge embarked on a blitz of decisions that would negate Dell and Frazier's policies, including the duo's support for building a water treatment plant at Piney Run park. The decisions included an announcement that they would reconsider the nine rezonings.

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 rezoning was executed properly, they said.

The nine properties, ranging from less than an acre to 16 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.

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

Jones said the contention over the zonings showed him that the commissioners shouldn't go against staff recommendations.

"I think we have commissioners now who if the staff comes up with a good recommendation not to accept a zoning on a property, we won't go against the recommendation," he said.

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