County refining business park rules

Commissioners seek new approach to invite job-generating sites

Carroll County

October 15, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners said yesterday that they want to move in a slightly different direction on plans to create land-use policies that would be inviting to developers seeking places to build business parks.

The commissioners asked their planning director to craft a two-part approach. Part one would offer developers a land-use approval process tailored to large business parks. Part two would allow the county to designate business or residential uses for individual parcels at a level of specificity it has not used.

The county traditionally has lumped swaths of land into broad zoning classifications, but the commissioners say they would like to exercise finer control over the county's remaining open parcels.

They also want to abandon previous plans that would have allowed business parks to be placed on any type of land anywhere in the county.

County planning director Steven C. Horn said he would turn the broad strokes the commissioners agreed on yesterday into specific proposals for them to consider.

The commissioners say the policies are part of an overall effort to build the county's industrial tax base and make the government less dependent on money generated by residential growth. They particularly want to attract high-tech companies that would offer better-paying jobs to Carroll residents.

"The goal of all this is to create employment parks that would bring commuters home," said Steven Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. A recent county study says that about 60 percent of Carroll's working population commutes outside the county every day.

Seeking consensus

County officials have spent the past decade trying to devise strategies to attract business parks but have never been able to settle on a plan that would satisfy planners, the business community and the commissioners.

They have agreed, however, that the county needs a pre-designed procedure so that developers interested in building parks will be able to do so with minimal complication.

"The time is now to do this," said Jack Lyburn, the county's director of economic development. "Otherwise, we're going to lose valuable land to other uses."

Lyburn said he hears frequently from developers interested in building business parks but has not been able to offer them concrete answers.

`More decisive'

County zoning administrator Neil Ridgely agreed that the county should stop dawdling on plans to attract business parks.

"I would really like to see this board do something more decisive than the county has done in the past," Ridgely said.

Under the plans discussed yesterday, a developer interested in building a business park would apply to the county's planning commission. The developer would have to demonstrate that the chosen site would offer sufficient road access and water and sewer capacities and would have to agree not to use the business park for big-box retail stores, auto shops or heavy industry.

A few important aspects of the measure, such as a minimum size for parks and a list of zoning classifications that could house them, remain undetermined.

The planning commission would hold public hearings on proposed parks and have the final power to allow development.

The commissioners would have the power to designate specific parcels across the county for specific uses. Horn said the county probably would use that power sparingly as part of its periodic reviews of zoning throughout the county.

Another tool

"It would be another tool in the county's economic development toolbox," he said of the targeted zonings, which could in theory create parcels perfectly suited for the types of businesses the commissioners hope to attract.

County officials did not offer a time frame for creating the policies, which would go to public hearing before final votes.

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