Carroll loses 11-year townhouse fight

In rebuke to commissioners' managed-growth policy, court approves 254-unit plan

September 01, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

After more than a decade-long battle that included years of legal wrangling, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has ruled against Carroll County, ordering that a 254-unit townhouse development in Eldersburg move forward.

The court's decision this week deals a blow to county officials and South Carroll residents who have argued that the high-density development would further burden overcrowded schools, roads and water resources.

"This project clearly has a long and storied past," Steven C. Horn, the county's planning director, said yesterday. "We tried to facilitate a process on this location to get something we could all feel good about."

But countless attempts to negotiate with the townhouse developer, Howard County-based Security Development Corp., languished, Horn said.

Since last summer, Horn said, he held numerous meetings with residents and the developer, pushing for a mixed-use or alternate commercial development plan. He said the county even offered to buy the property.

The court decision forces the county to comply with a 1999 court ruling, requiring the county's planning commission to approve the townhouses planned for a 20-acre parcel on Kali Drive near Ridge Road. It would be the final phase of Carrolltowne Development, a subdivision that dates to 1972.

"Essentially that is the key linchpin in this decision: the failure to appeal the decision back in 1999," County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender told the county commissioners yesterday.

It's the latest court ruling to tip in Security Development's favor.

"Everybody expected that this was what the result was going to be," said attorney Benjamin Rosenberg, who has represented the developer throughout the 11-year conflict.

The Carroll Circuit Court had previously sided with Security Development as recently as June 2005. In that ruling, Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway ordered the seven-member planning commission to approve the Carrolltowne site plan or be held in contempt.

Faced with the possibility of jail time, the planning commission acquiesced. The county commissioners immediately filed an appeal of Galloway's decision.

The development had been stalled by a temporary stay, issued by the Court of Special Appeals in August 2005. Security did not object and the county stopped the clock on its development review process for the project.

This week's decision undermines the managed-growth priorities of Carroll's three-member board of commissioners, all Republicans who are seeking re-election in a crowded September primary.

The board overhauled growth-related laws in 2004 during a yearlong moratorium on residential development.

"It became evident very early on that there's no fault to be put on the three of you," Michele Carroll, president of Carrolltowne United, told the commissioners yesterday. Carrolltowne United is a grassroots group that has opposed the development.

But Doug Howard, a GOP commissioner candidate and Carrolltowne United member, said the county could have done more to encourage business development on the property.

"If this had been able to develop commercially, everyone would have been better off," Howard said.

"A lot of it is just sitting down with people to think about what kind of incentives can encourage the right kind of growth. There are a lot of great potential uses for that property."

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