Hearing put off in suit by builder

New date in Carrolltowne case is set for Feb. 18

Issue has dragged since 1995

Developer wants planning board jailed for contempt


February 04, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County Circuit Court judge has postponed for two weeks a hearing on a developer's contempt suit against the county, a complaint that called for incarcerating the entire planning commission, including County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

The attorney for Carrolltowne Development Partnership filed a petition for contempt in October, soon after the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission denied a site plan for 254 rental units on a 20-acre parcel along Kali Drive near Ridge Road in Eldersburg. The area is coping with crowded classrooms, congested roads and seasonal water shortages, all valid reasons for the denial, officials said.

As Gouge entered the courtroom yesterday, a woman approached her with a promise.

"She told me, `Don't worry, dear. I have bail money in my pocketbook,'" Gouge said.

The planning commission needed several extra seats near the plaintiff's table, prompting Judge Michael M. Galloway to say, "Maybe we should have gone off site."

The latest chapter in the decade-old Carrolltowne saga prompted a petition drive that gathered more than 800 signatures from those opposed to the development. The judge also has received numerous letters of protest.

County administrators, residents and even the principal of Carrolltowne Elementary School crowded the courtroom yesterday, knowing they would have no opportunity to be heard.

"People are concerned that 250 apartments will turn Eldersburg on its ear," Gouge said after the hearing. "This developer will build and leave these people and their children to suffer the consequences."

Galloway looked at the hefty file as he granted the postponement, a mutual request, but added, "I would like to get this case moving."

The judge excused the commission, all volunteers whom assistant county attorney Terri A. Jones described as having "real lives and real jobs," from the Feb. 18 hearing and said he probably would not rule on the motion that day.

The judge has several options, said county attorney Kimberly Millender. She said he could issue a motion to dismiss the contempt suit and thereby end the case. He could also order a hearing on the suit or defer the case until the court hears Carrolltowne's petition for judicial review later this year.

Carrolltowne Development Partnership first attempted to build the townhouses in 1995. The planning commission refused to approve the site plan then and again a year later, but the Circuit Court for Carroll County reversed those decisions and ordered the commission to approve the development in 1999.

The county commissioners did not appeal the judge's ruling, and the developer did not move forward with the project, choosing to pursue the possibility of commercial uses for the parcel.

When the county removed the business zoning designation from the land, the developer revived the residential plan and brought it to the planning commission in August - five years after the judge's decision. The planning commission ruled then that the developer had run out of time, noting the county's policy that a project must move forward within 18 months of the site plan's filing or begin the review process anew.

Several Eldersburg residents lingered at the courthouse after the hearing.

"This was a waste of time. When are they going to try the case?" asked Bill Wolf.

Rochelle Schneiderman has attended hearings on the development for nine years, she said.

"We have overcrowded schools, atrocious traffic on our roads and no adequate facilities," she said. "I know the developer needs to develop this property, but not with 250 more houses."

Tracy Cox said, "Stacking apartments on this valuable property creates a real dilemma. The developer has to take into account the quality of life in this area."

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