Landowners complain about growth-law plan

Commissioners want tougher standards on proposals by developers

March 17, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Landowners complained to the Carroll commissioners last night that changes to the county's growth laws would unfairly burden those hoping to build residential subdivisions.

Under revisions to the adequate public facilities law, residential development would have to meet more stringent standards and pass two tests before developers could proceed with plans. The law is designed to prevent residential growth from overwhelming schools, utilities and emergency services.

Other proposals discussed included changes to the county's development standards, zoning ordinance and fire protection requirements for rural areas.

The hearing was the final session in a series of public forums focused on the overhaul of the county's growth laws. A yearlong freeze has been imposed on residential development.

The proposal to strengthen the adequate facilities law drew the most criticism from a crowd of more than 100 people in Scott Center at Carroll Community College.

The current law, also known as concurrency management, provides for one test to determine whether facilities are adequate in terms of existing roads, schools and emergency services. Once a subdivision plan passes that test, a developer receives a certificate and can proceed.

The commissioners propose creating an additional hurdle for developers by retesting projects near the end of the review process - which can take 18 months to two years.

But developers said the second test creates unpredictability for them, after they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for subdivision projects.

"To go ahead and give us the green light and then pull the rug from underneath us at the end is unfair," said Daniel Hoff, a developer who voted against the revisions as a member of a task force examining the law.

The revisions represent the most significant steps taken by commissioners since the county adopted concurrency management in 1998. The goal was to link approval for residential development to existing schools, roads and emergency services so that growth would coincide with available resources.

Elected on promises to better manage growth, the commissioners took steps last year to do that by halting for a year the processing of all subdivision plans subject to the adequate facilities law. The freeze interrupted about 90 projects, totaling 1,700 lots.

Several developers have challenged the freeze in court. Five were granted temporary relief by the county Circuit Court and their projects are proceeding.

Several people said the proposed changes to the adequate facilities law do not take into account developers who have received certificates stating that their projects would not strain school, utilities and emergency services. The freeze also interrupted projects with certificates.

"The [proposed] ordinance does not address certificates ... which surely would create another wave of lawsuits the taxpayers would pay for," said Brian Chapline of Westminster, who founded the Carroll County Landowners Network.

But several residents encouraged the commissioners to not cave in to pressure by developers and landowners. They said unchecked residential growth is outpacing schools, water and road capacities.

"After so many years of inadequate control, irresponsible leadership and undue influence by the development community, we are on the brink of a major breakthrough," said Mike Naused, who read a letter on behalf of the Freedom Area Citizens' Council. "You have clearly honored your pledge to listen to citizens and open our government beyond the influence of builders and developers."

Donna Slack, an 18-year resident of Eldersburg, told the commissioners that her children were in crowded classrooms and portable classrooms. She also pointed out that there is a lack of water capacity in the Eldersburg area.

"I'm tired of dealing with less-than-adequate things here," Slack said. "You are living up to everything you promised when you were elected."

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