Builder agrees to court delay

County pauses Carrolltowne's review process


The principals involved in a decadelong battle over a 254-unit rental complex proposed for a crowded area of Eldersburg have declared a temporary cease-fire, at least until the Maryland Court of Special Appeals rules on the issue.

No official will go to jail for contempt. No site plan for the 20-acre parcel will move forward in the review process. And no construction will begin, while the county pursues an appeal.

"The developer of Carrolltowne has consented to the court's stay and has agreed not to fight it during the appeals process," said Kimberly Millender, county attorney.

The Court of Special Appeals issued a temporary stay in August and gave Carrolltowne Development Partnership, a Howard County-based developer, a deadline to reply.

"We will not oppose the stay," said Benjamin Rosenberg, attorney for the developer. "Nothing further will happen until the court decides the case."

Nor will Rosenberg press any other measures, such as incarcerating the county planning commission for failure to approve the plan, he said.

In exchange for the developer's support of what amounts to yet another long delay of the project, the county has agreed to stop the clock on its development-review process. County policy says a developer must record and win approval of a site plan within 18 months of a go-ahead from the planning commission.

"The clock is not ticking on this project," said Millender. "This is something we would do for any project we were appealing."

In the most recent court decision in a history that dates to 1995, Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway ruled in favor of the developer in June and ordered the seven-member commission to approve the site plan immediately or be held in contempt. Failure to comply with the judge's order could result in incarceration for the panel that includes County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge - an option that Rosenberg said he would not hesitate to pursue.

The commission had previously denied the project, based on the crowded schools, congested roads and scarcity of water in the South Carroll area. But, under threat of jail, members approved the project July 19. Several said the ruling went against their better judgment.

The county commissioners immediately filed an appeal and soon won a stay that would prevent the project from moving forward. Rosenberg could have appealed the stay.

"We have told the court that the parties have agreed on the stay issue," Millender said. "We think we have a really reasonable approach."

Rosenberg said, "Everyone is acting in his own interests, but this way we won't proceed until we have the court's decision."

The Court of Special Appeals has no time limit on issuing a decision.

Residents who contend that 254 more homes in the county's most populous area would further crowd schools and roads, burden emergency services and tax water resources have formed Carrolltowne United and are lauding the stalemate.

"Reasonable conversation is all we are asking for," said member Cheryl Franceschi.

Residents have met with the developer as well as county and state officials, hoping to find a more palatable plan, possibly commercial development.

"The developer can do a commercial project today if he wants that as the last stage," Millender said. "He would have to do a new site plan and get that approved."

Residents point to Carrolltown Center, the county's oldest mall and part of the original plan for the development. Additional businesses would be compatible with the multimillion-dollar renovation now at the mall and would not strain infrastructure and services, they said.

"Commercial development is the best option for the community," said Doug Howard, vice president of the South Carroll Business Association. "In the past, there has been a lot of trust lost on both sides of this issue and that made it hard for either party to take the next step. Now I think there is a real willingness to encourage commercial development."

If not that, he said, "We are looking for alternatives, and the developer is opening the door. There is creative conversation and reason for hope."

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