Carrolltowne meeting sought

Commissioners want an open session with developer to discuss land-use options

November 13, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

While Carroll County appeals a judge's decision that could bring 254 townhouses to Eldersburg, residents are urging officials to meet with the developer and pursue alternatives for the 20-acre parcel near Liberty Road.

In a meeting organized last week by Carrolltowne United - a group formed to find options for the property that will not further burden schools, roads and utilities - the county commissioners said they were willing to meet in open session with Security Development Corp.

The Howard County-based company would build the townhouses in the final phase of the Carrolltowne Development, according to a 10-year-old plan that a Circuit Court judge ordered the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission to approve, or else face jail for contempt.

"We are talking about a conversation between officials and people who have property rights and those whose quality of life would be affected," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "I haven't met the developers, only their lawyers. A meeting would show we are not sitting up there in Westminster stomping on property rights. This is an option to sending people to jail because you can't do what you want."

The commissioners have appealed the decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. In what many feel is a step toward compromise, the county will not run the clock on its 18-month development review process and the developer will not pursue the contempt order while the appeal is pending.

"These are steps in the right direction," said Steven C. Horn, county director of planning.

The county is willing to work with Security Development "to come up with a quality project for the community," Horn said. "But, for now, we cannot allow this project to proceed and ignore local law."

In an exchange of letters, the county and Security Development have agreed to a meeting, but not on its rules. The commissioners insist it be an open session, while Security wants a closed meeting "to ensure that a candid exchange of ideas takes place," according to a Nov. 2 letter signed by James R. Schulte and his three partners.

"We are amenable to meeting and would like to talk," Schulte said in an interview. "This situation is as frustrating to us as it is to everyone. But we are involved in a lengthy litigation and have been advised by our attorneys that whatever is said in an open meeting can be used against us."

Residents asked whether the county would consider alternative plans for the parcel, which is the final phase of the Carrolltowne Development, a subdivision that dates to 1972.

"Here we are 30 years later looking at a plan that does not incorporate all the improvements we would like to see," Horn said. "We would like to talk about schools, water, traffic impacts, but, as it stands now with the judge's order, we don't get that chance."

Since this board of commissioners took office in 2002, its members have worked to manage growth and build the necessary infrastructure to meet existing demands.

"All we are asking is that the procedures we have put in place get a chance to work," said Minnich. "You cannot get more proactive than we have been, but we have somebody come along with a 10-year-old plan. The surest way to get in this soup again is to do nothing."

The Circuit Court order would allow Security to develop a 10-year-old site plan that does not consider increases in population, strains on area schools and roads or the shortage of water resources that have occurred since the original plan was submitted and rejected in 1995.

Four years later, the court ordered the planning commission to approve the plan. The county did not appeal that order, and the developer did not move forward, choosing instead to pursue commercial options for the parcel, which did not come to fruition. Security Development again submitted the residential plan last year, only to have it rejected again, based on inadequate facilities.

"There is no requirement to do a traffic impact study or make road improvements and no opportunity to phase in development," Horn said. "Those are all reasons why this is in litigation."

Should the discussion occur, it could include the possibility of commercial development on the site, an option more palatable to residents and one Horn called "entirely appropriate."

"We have floated other plans," said Schulte. "The courts approved this one, and we have won every time in court. If we back off, we have nowhere to go."

Any revised plan would have to go before the planning commission. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who also sits on that panel, said the parcel could be residential, commercial or mixed use.

"The invitation to meet in open session still stands," she said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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