Westminster's planned growth faces obstacles

Water shortages hinder expansion and construction

May 27, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The comprehensive plan Carroll County has drafted for the Westminster environs includes a four-mile connector roadway between Malcolm Drive through Bennett Cerf Drive to Route 97, sites for new county schools and regional parks, and major land use changes due to the airport and employment campus projects, said Daphne Daly, manager of the county bureau of comprehensive planning.

But with eight pending annexations held up because of water shortages, the plan to expand Westminster's municipal borders to maintain the state's Smart Growth principle of clustering high-density development faces new hurdles, Westminster and county planning officials said.

"It's not something that the city will be able to resolve on its own," county planning director Steven C. Horn said. "The county sees annexations as consistent with its Smart Growth policies. We see higher density and growth on public [municipal water and sewer] systems."

Carroll County planners presented a draft of the Westminster environs plan last week and met with the city's planning department Thursday to coordinate efforts on how to accommodate growth in the county seat.

The county will hold an informational meeting and public hearing on the comprehensive plan July 30, with the hope that the planning commission and county commissioners can adopt it by the end of the year, Daly said.

Because of a bill that passed in the General Assembly last year, Westminster must flesh out its own comprehensive plan by fall 2009 with details on how its municipal borders will grow and what water resources would support such development.

"We're not doing anything with them right now until we make a determination of how to provide them with water and sewer service," Westminster Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson said of the pending annexations. "It's not just a problem for the municipalities to solve. It's a countywide problem."

An $8.4 million four-mile road connecting Malcolm Drive, Bennett Cerf Drive and Route 97 is by far the biggest transportation project detailed in the comprehensive plan, Daly said.

Bennett Cerf Drive functions as a private driveway for the Random House warehouse. The company is concerned that additional traffic will disrupt its shipping operations, Daly added.

Daly said the project could be tailored to suit Random House's needs in developing the county's proposed two-lane controlled access road.

"People who now go on [Routes] 97 and 140 could have an alternative to get them to the same place and do it fairly expeditiously without having to go through a lot of neighborhood roads and back streets," Daly said of the project's potential benefits.

The growth areas proposed in the new Westminster plan represent less than half the acreage of what was proposed for the city's future boundaries in 1985, Daly said.

Much of the land excluded from the new draft of the comprehensive plan was in low-density agricultural or conservation areas that shouldn't be incorporated into the city, Daly added.

The growth area proposed in 1985 encompassed 13,449 acres, compared to 6,225 acres in the drafted plan, according to county officials. Westminster's pending annexations total about 140 acres, city planning manager Matthew B. Davis said.

Four future school sites are on the drafted map to the north of Westminster along Route 97 and three to the south, clustered along an extended Kate Wagner Road. New regional parks have also been proposed, along an extended Malcolm Drive and to the south near Kate Wagner Road.

Few increases in residential density have been included in Westminster's comprehensive plan because of water constraints, Daly said.

Horn, the county planning director, said some residents have asked why residential developers don't give the county school sites, which he said is common practice in the state's more populous regions. But Carroll's zoning doesn't allow for the high-density growth that gives a developer the financial incentive to offer such land, he said.

"You really can't afford as a developer to put up a 20- to 30-lot subdivision and then donate a 50-acre parcel as a school site," Horn said. "What we end up with in Carroll is small subdivisions, with single-family homes on larger lots."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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