Officials must OK plan or face jail

Judge orders planning panel to approve Eldersburg complex

Galloway's ruling can be appealed

Commissioners may be held in contempt if they deny plan

July 17, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission must approve a site plan this week that will add 254 townhouses to Eldersburg - the county's most populous and fastest-growing area - appeal a judge's order to a higher court or go to jail.

Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway has ordered the seven-member panel to "forthwith approve" the Carrolltowne Apartment Complex "or be held in contempt" - the penalty for which is incarceration.

The commission will deliberate publicly starting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Scott Center at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, and will take comments. Members can decide to appeal the order to the Court of Special Appeals, acquiesce to the judge's order or deny the plan as it did last year.

"If they deny it again, they arguably can be held in contempt," said Kimberly Millender, county attorney.

Benjamin Rosenberg, attorney for the developer, the Carrolltowne Development Partnership, has made no secret of his intention to 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. Rosenberg was on vacation last week and unavailable for comment.

"Threatening these people who are essentially volunteers with jail is incredible," said Thomas McCarron, chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial liaison between residents and county government.

"They are faced with this all because a developer slept on his rights and now wants to make a profit on the backs of South Carroll residents who will ultimately pay for all the improvements we will need. This development is ridiculously out of place," McCarron said.

Carrolltowne Development Partnership, which evolved from Howard County-based Security Development Corp., expects to build the rental homes on a 20-acre parcel at Kali Drive and Ridge Road. The two-story homes would be the final phase of a subdivision begun in the 1970s.

The planning commission based its denial last year on inadequate facilities in South Carroll, whose population has nearly tripled since 1980. The area suffers from seasonal water shortages. Its schools are all crowded and surrounded by portable classrooms. The roads are so congested that the state has rated many key intersections as failing for the delays caused to motorists.

The commission's denial of the original site plan 10 years ago triggered a lawsuit by the developer. In 1999, Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns ordered the commission to approve the site plan. But the developer did not submit one, preferring to pursue commercial possibilities for the property.

When the county later rescinded the commercial zoning, the developer returned to the commission with the residential plan. The commission denied the plan in August and was supported in that decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Officials also argued that the developer violated county review policy by not submitting a completed plan within 18 months of site plan approval.

Galloway reversed both decisions, saying Burns' order did not constitute approval of the plan and thus did not trigger the county's 18-month policy.

Residents organized a petition drive and submitted to the court more than 600 signatures opposing the project.

"The planning commission did its job in denying this development," said Michele Carroll, whose children attend Carrolltowne Elementary in portable classrooms. "Who is this judge to take this decision out of the commission's hands? It is certainly not in the interest of the community or the county to put this through."

Several South Carroll residents expect to speak in support of the planning commission and in opposition to the development, they said.

"There is no sense to this development," said Ross Dangel, spokesman for the Freedom council. "It will only further overload our schools, roads and water system. Galloway is completely unplugged. We have to appeal this and have the state court overrule him."

Since the development was first introduced, the county has enacted new regulations that halt development in areas where facilities are strained, said Steven C. Horn, county planning director. "Although the county is working on additional capacity for the water system, this development would clearly tax that system and the roadways, adding thousands of trips a day to an already burdened intersection," Horn said.

He said he sees little room for compromise. "It is tough to talk about any kind of compromise, when there is an actual threat of jail time," Horn said.

We want your opinions

THE ISSUE: Despite a shortage of water and a petition signed by 600 residents, a judge has ordered the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission to approve a 254-townhouse project in the fastest-growing area of the county. The commission must approve the Eldersburg project or its members - including County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge - 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, where the population has nearly tripled since 1980. The rental complex would be built on 20 acres at Kali Drive and Ridge Road.

YOUR VIEW: Do you think the planning commission members should appeal the judge's decision or should they approve the project? Tell us what you think at carroll.letters@baltsun.com by Thursday. Please keep your response short, and include your name, address and phone number. A selection will be published Sunday.

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