Preservation proposed for Finksburg

Plan seeks to preserve farmland, open spaces

`Reflects what community wants'

Route 140 corridor would be focus of area development

November 23, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County government's new plan for Finksburg calls for more agricultural preservation and less residential development in the area, which has been targeted for growth for nearly three decades.

The plan, expected to win official approval in the spring, would remove the "community planning area" designation, which is designed for growth areas, from Finksburg and instead focus development within a corridor on either side of Route 140.

County officials have frequently said the "CPA" designation no longer is suitable for the area because it lies entirely within the Liberty Reservoir watershed and lacks public water and sewer service.

In a series of meetings with county officials and through surveys, the community has said it wants to keep its open spaces and preserve its farmland, said Brenda Dinne, bureau chief for comprehensive planning for the county.

"The new plan reflects what the community wants and the other circumstances, such as the watershed and no public water and sewer, that make those wishes reasonable," she said.

The proposed Finksburg Corridor Conservation Plan would change many acres zoned "conservation" to an agricultural designation. Much of that land is farmed already and most landowners have told the county they do not object to the change, officials said.

"Conservation was once considered the most restrictive zoning that allowed the least amount of development," said Matthew W. Simmont, county planner. "But it has allowed for development in more sensitive areas. Ag zoning allows much less development."

Conservation zoning allows for one building lot for every 3 acres, while in the agricultural zone, the rule is one lot for every 20 acres.

Deborah Ridgely, chairwoman of the Finksburg council, said the recommended changes in land use make sense, particularly since a sizable area of Finksburg is being considered for state Rural Legacy land preservation funding.

Nearly 30 years ago, Carroll County created 10 planning areas to direct growth to the county's eight municipalities and the unincorporated areas of Finksburg along Route 140 and Freedom in South Carroll. While Freedom's population has tripled to nearly 30,000, Finksburg, which spreads across 28,000 acres, has not grown as significantly, mainly because it lacks public water and sewer service.

Recent census figures put the population at about 18,000. Despite having no local government, Finksburg is trying to organize to have a say in its future. The Finksburg Planning Area Council formed about six years ago and it now has a voice on the council of governments.

Simmont has worked with residents for three years on the plan. The county also conducted two surveys to gauge opinions on the future of the area, which runs along the Route 140 corridor from the Baltimore County line to Bethel Road.

Many surveyed asked that the area maintain its rural appeal, and that new industry be directed to sites along the Route 140 corridor, away from farmland. They also called for agricultural preservation, a branch of the public library, bicycle trails near Liberty Reservoir and fewer billboards.

The corridor plan that Simmont unveiled last week at a council meeting incorporates many of those elements. And, after years of looking for land for a library, the commissioners are expected to authorize purchase of a site on Old Westminster Pike on Tuesday.

"As far as I know, everything is great and we are settling on the site that was the first choice of the library board of trustees," said Linda Mielke, director of the five-branch county library system. "This project has money budgeted and I intend to move as fast as is physically possible to get this done."

The county expects to build the $3.5 million Finksburg branch and a headquarters for the system. The 10-acre property near Sandymount Park is an ideal location which the commissioners are expected to approve, said Steven Powell, chief of staff.

The corridor plan also calls for landscaping, signs and other amenities to enhance the gateway entrance to the county on Route 140, transportation improvements designed to ease traffic along the congested highway and stronger protections for the watershed.

"The idea is to preserve and protect the character of this corridor," said Dinne.

The plan discourages high-density development, said Simmont.

"Finksburg has all the industrial development it will ever need, but it could have more commercial uses, particularly at the entrance to the community," he said.

John Lopez, vice chairman of the Finksburg group, said he hoped the plan would stimulate more interest among residents and that the county planning commission, which will soon review the draft, listens to residents' concerns.

"The plan incorporates the gateway concept, includes a library, creates more commercial property while downsizing industrial land and increases ag zoning," Lopez said. "It doesn't sidestep any issues."

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