Carroll planning board threatened with jail

Judge says panel must approve 254 townhouses

July 07, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Despite a shortage of water and a petition signed by 600 residents, a judge has ordered the Carroll County zoning commission to reverse itself and immediately approve a 254-townhouse project in a badly congested region of the county.

The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission must approve the Eldersburg project or its members -- including a county commissioner -- could be jailed for contempt, according to Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway.

The planning commission denied the project last year, citing inadequate facilities in South Carroll, whose population has nearly tripled since 1980. Residents also submitted to the court a petition with more than 600 signatures opposing the project.

"What is the point of having commissioners if the county is going to be run by lawyers and judges? All the decisions at this level of the courts seem to be pro-development," said County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, who opposed the project.

Galloway, however, agreed with the developers that a six-year-old court ruling on the matter was still applicable. In a June 30 ruling, he ordered commission members to approve the site plan for the rental complex on 20 acres at Kali Drive and Ridge Road in the county's most populous and fastest-growing area.

Benjamin Rosenberg, attorney for the developer, the Carrolltowne Development Partnership, said he would demand that planning commission members -- including Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners -- be jailed if they refuse to comply with the order.

Area schools are surrounded by portable classrooms. The roads are congested and the water supply is so stretched that the commissioners have curtailed development until new supplies can be tapped.

Rosenberg contends the inadequacies should have no bearing on the Carrolltowne development.

"They will find water for this project," Rosenberg said. "The county should have reserved water for this project in 1995. If need be, it will have to take water allocated to another project."

The South Carroll area, which includes Eldersburg and Sykesville, has endured seasonal water shortages for several years.

"They never even brought up that there's no water in South Carroll," said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. "How can you build 254 units with no water?"

The partnership, based in Howard County, has tried for a decade to build the townhouses. The planning commission refused to approve the original site plan in 1995 and again a year later. The developers filed suit, saying the proposal was merely the final phase of a long-approved project, and then-Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. agreed in 1999. He ordered the zoning panel to approve the development.

The county commissioners did not appeal that ruling. The developer, however, did not move forward with the development because it was then investigating an alternative commercial project on the site.

The county later removed the business zoning needed for that project, and the developer revived the residential plan and brought it to the planning commission in August -- five years after the judge's decision.

The commission cited the original inadequacies and denied the plan last year, a decision that the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals later affirmed.

The proposed development "totally ignores every regulation we have in place to protect the citizens' quality of life," Gouge said last year.

In a lawsuit, the developer accused the commission of "constructive civil contempt" and asked that commission members, including Gouge, be jailed for refusing to comply with the original order to approve the plan.

The planning panel is to meet today in a closed session with the county attorney to discuss its options, including filing a motion for reconsideration with the Circuit Court and an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals.

"If this is at all possible to appeal, then we have to," Minnich said.

Rosenberg said any further appeal "would be strictly for the purposes of delaying this project. I hope the commission acts according to good legal advice and puts this to rest."

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