After more than 10 years of discussion, drafting and revising, the Carroll County commissioners unanimously approved employment campus zoning yesterday, adopting an ordinance that would designate land for business parks and guard industrial parcels against commercial use.
The county commissioners said they have laid the groundwork for the creation of high-tech business parks and well-paying jobs.
The zoning will help the county increase its industrial land and keep "the talent and potential we have moving through the county now working here instead," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "People can live in the county where they work, and business can help pay down the load on schools, roads and emergency services."
For the past decade, the county has been trying to devise strategies to attract businesses and light-manufacturing companies that would increase its commercial and industrial tax base, which at 12 percent is the lowest rate in the Baltimore area.
Those businesses could offer better-paying jobs to Carroll residents. Nearly 60 percent of the county's workers commute to jobs outside Carroll.
"This zone is a better idea," Minnich said. "There is no dirt, no pollution, and it taps into the demographics of the area."
The new zoning is also "an important step in addressing the county's poor industrial tax base," said Steven C. Horn, the county's planning director.
"The commissioners are looking for ways to expand the economic development toolbox," Horn said. "Adoption of this zoning is a good step in the right direction. We will be delighted to use this tool in the county's master plan."
The employment campus zoning would apply to parcels of at least 50 acres that meet planning criteria - particularly adequate road access, and water and sewer capacities. The business parks would combine light-manufacturing and commercial uses that support industry.
Prospective tenants would include computer services, engineering and research facilities, hotel and conference centers, light-manufacturing facilities, and professional offices. Commercial uses, such as dry cleaners and coffee shops, could not occupy more than 20 percent of the campus. The ordinance also provides for day care centers.
Uses such as mini-storage facilities and auto shops would be prohibited. The plan imposes strict design standards for facades, landscaping and signs.
Jack Lyburn, Carroll's economic development director, said his office would "fast-track" through the development process all major industrial parks that add to the tax base and create jobs.
"I am really excited because this gives us another tool to attract high-tech" businesses, Lyburn said.
Much of Carroll's industrial land is difficult to market because of location and lack of utilities. About 400 acres are considered marketable, Lyburn said. In the past, shopping centers and big-box stores have gobbled up the most desirable industrial land.
In South Carroll, the county's most populous area with more than 30,000 residents, prime industrial land near the Route 26 and Route 32 corridors is occupied by a Merritt Athletic Club, a Wal-Mart store and Eldersburg Marketplace, a $35 million shopping center. The new ordinance will protect other industrial parcels from a similar fate.
The county's Economic Development Commission, which represents the interests of business owners, endorsed the new zoning months ago, saying it would spur industry and create white-collar jobs.
"This is a good ordinance with a lot of thought put into it," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "It takes into account the effects on the surrounding community and offers opportunities for public input and understanding. Maybe now we can get our people to stay in Carroll for work."