Noting figures that show crowded schools, the Carroll County planning commission denied preliminary approval yesterday for a residential development plan that was halted by the county's growth freeze.
The 3-2 decision by the county Planning and Zoning Commission was a setback for Neuman Homes Development, which had been granted temporary relief from the county's freeze on residential development by a Circuit Court judge.
"We're disappointed that despite the fact that we had all legal approvals, we were voted down," said attorney Clark Shaffer, who represents Neuman Homes. Shaffer said he plans to appeal the planning commission's decision to the county Board of Zoning Appeals.
Last month, Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway ordered the county to schedule a review for the proposed 10-lot Marabrooke Farm development in Eldersburg at the next planning commission meeting.
Neuman Homes had asked Galloway for a delay of the decision by the county Board of Zoning Appeals that had upheld the county's action to stop processing plans for Marabrooke Farm.
Had the Planning and Zoning Commission given Neuman Homes preliminary approval, the developer could have moved toward obtaining final approval and starting construction.
But at yesterday's meeting, several planning commission members expressed concerns about whether Marabrooke Farm meets standards for adequate public facilities, particularly for schools.
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, an ex-officio planning commission member, asked why Neuman Homes received a certificate from the county stating that its proposed project would not strain school, road and water services when, in future school years, Linton Springs Elementary School and Sykesville Middle School is projected to be above 120 percent capacity, the threshold at which schools are considered crowded.
"How could a certificate have been issued when right in the certificate it says there is no capacity at the schools?" asked Gouge, who voted against the plan.
Terri A. Jones, a senior assistant county attorney, said the certificate was issued before a ceiling was placed on housing allocations for subdivisions where schools were crowded and roads were overburdened.
Jones called Marabrooke Farm a "good example" of why the county is revamping its laws on adequate public facilities as part of its one-year growth freeze.
The freeze halted projects subject to the county's adequate-facilities law. The law, known as concurrency management, is designed to keep residential growth from overwhelming schools, roads, utilities and emergency services. The commissioners imposed the freeze in June to give the county's planning department time to overhaul growth laws.
A public hearing was held last night on proposed changes in the adequate-facilities law, including more stringent standards.
Shaffer, speaking on behalf of Neuman Homes, told the planning commission that new school enrollment projections indicate that Linton Springs Elementary and Sykesville Middle are expected to be below the 120 percent capacity threshold.
In July 2002, Neuman Homes received a certificate to proceed with its plans by meeting requirements based on the current adequate-facilities law, Shaffer said.
The county has been ordered by the county Circuit Court to resume processing development plans for four other developers, in addition to Neuman Homes, pending the county's appeals.