County seeks input on plan

Public's ideas are sought about future of region

`There's a lot of growth pressure'

Workshop on Wednesday to focus on draft proposal

Westminster

August 23, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Carroll County planners are asking residents living in the unincorporated areas around Westminster to air their ideas about the region's future.

When planners open an informal workshop to the public Wednesday, it will be the first time in five years that residents will have a forum to express opinions about the Westminster Environs Community Comprehensive Plan. The plan, in draft form, includes recommendations crafted after a series of public hearings in 1999.

"Our objective is to weed out anything that is objectionable to the public initially," said Daphne P. Daly, one of the county's comprehensive planners and leader of the Westminster environs project.

Overall, the comments gathered five years ago show that residents want a balance of recreational and commercial resources while maintaining a low-key and safe existence.

"I think what people are looking for is the community to retain its small-town flavor and provide a high level of services," Daly said. "But they also recognize that it's a very desirable place for people to live, and clearly, there's a lot of growth pressure.

"What we've tried to do is put together recommendations that will kind of outline if that growth is going to occur, where and how it could occur, so we don't lose some of those things people really value."

After Wednesday's workshop, planners will incorporate any recommended changes to the draft, which they will submit to the county's Planning and Zoning Commission.

The plan looks at areas surrounding the city of Westminster, with rough boundaries including the Airpark Business Center to the north, Kate Wagner Road to the south, the county landfill to the east and Rockland Road to the west.

Daly said that during past forums, residents were particularly interested in public facilities - especially recreational areas.

"People really want to have a regional park facility," Daly said. "So we're looking at different options, possibly expanding offerings at existing places."

Recommendations included enhancing the facilities at the Carroll County Sports Complex, Bear Branch Nature Center and the Hashawha Environmental Center; creating a new park on county-owned land near the Ag Center; and constructing biking and walking trails alongside proposed roads.

Trails have cropped up as controversial topics in the past, particularly within the transportation element of the Westminster environs plan. Elected officials and residents expressed apprehension about creating trails that could provide access to established neighborhoods, where fears about safety dominated discussions.

The environs plan includes recommended changes to the transportation network in the area, including roads, trails and mass transit.

The county Planning and Zoning Commission approved the draft of the transportation element of the plan in November 2002, but the previous board of commissioners deferred action on transportation, leaving it to the current board.

The commissioners bounced the draft plan back to the planning commission in February last year to review two recommendations: one extending Kate Wagner Road farther east and the other extending Bennett Cerf Drive so that it runs parallel to the west branch of the Patapsco River and connects Route 27 with Route 97.

County planner Bobbi Moser said changes were made to the recommendations because of concerns from Westminster officials that the Bennett Cerf Drive extension could contaminate the water supply.

Planners met with city staff and worked out a compromise that put the Bennett Cerf Drive extension on the east side of the river branch, thereby eliminating stream crossings and potential water contamination.

County officials said the transportation element will be integrated with the rest of the Westminster environs plan. It will then be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The county has already moved forward with one recommendation in the environs plan: creating an employment campus to provide jobs for people within the county to reduce commutes.

Community workshop regarding Westminster Environs Community Comprehensive Plan, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Rooms 003 and 004. Information: 410-386-2145. Go to www.ccgov.carr.org/plan-d/westmin/index.html for newsletters describing the plan's recommendations.

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