Carroll County residents still have time to comment on the 2018 Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan before it goes before the Board of County Commissioners for potential adoption.
The Planning Commission accepted the plan in mid-April, and a 60-day comment period opened after the plan was released in May. The comment period will conclude after a July 11 public hearing at Liberty High School in Eldersburg.
The Carroll County Planning Department’s acting director said this week the plan is a road map at best, although she understands why this process concerns area residents.
“I understand where residents are coming from and change is tough,” Lynda Eisenberg said Tuesday.
But the plan is an update to the 2001 iteration, she said, based on current uses and potentials for future land use in the Freedom area, not a proclamation of growth.
According to Eisenberg, that proclamation came about 50 years ago when Freedom became a designated growth area.
And the most controversial properties — the Beatty, Hoby Wolf and Gibson properties — were never intended for minimal use, she said.
“I will say this,” Eisenberg said. “The three properties that are left to develop, they are at the heart of the Freedom area at the crossroads of [Md.] 26 and [Md.] 32. They’re on water and on sewer, but because they haven't been developed yet there’s a sense that that has kept the property rural.
“But it’s just the timing because the property owners … have now just chosen to sell and develop their properties,” she said. “So there was no policy or anything that changed, and … there are large tracts in more urban areas that give a sense of rurality for the area ... but the intent was always for those properties to develop in some point in time.”
Even though the Hoby Wolf property is going to change from medium to high residential use and the Gibson property is changing from low to medium residential use, the Beatty property, “is being downsized to residential” from an industrial use in the northern portion of the area.
Eisenberg also said that instead of making exceptions for current uses, making the proposed changes to the Freedom Plan will reflect how the area is really being developed today.
Planning Chairman Richard Soisson agreed with Eisenberg in an interview Tuesday, stating also that the changes would not mean immediate development or guarantee anything at all, they would just allow the possibility of change.
“It’s not like ... all of a sudden there’s going to be all this building,” Soisson said. “It depends what developers want to do, what they’re going to do … based on how many houses they can sell — and it’s limited. A developer can only have 25 houses in one year.”
He said a developer could hypothetically decide to develop the Beatty property at the end of the year, put in 25 houses in December and put in another 25 more the following month.
“So you're just not going to see all of this development,” he said. “That's why there’s not a lot of growth right now, because there’s not a lot of demand.”
Other changes include several properties designated for low commercial use shifting to medium residential use, and certain environmental conservation designations removed.
“There was a time when we had conservation along streams, buffering that hearkens back to the beginning of the plans [in the 1970s],” Eisenberg said. “That was before we had statewide and national environmental rules and regulations to protect streams and buffers. I would even characterize that as a remnant. … You shouldn’t have to zone it that way.”
Commissioner Doug Howard, whose District 5 includes a majority of the Freedom area, expressed concern about the plan in a prepared release issued in April, shortly after the Planning Commission’s vote to accept the plan.
“I fully recognize that the Freedom area is a ‘designated growth area,’ but there needs to be a balance between the more rural areas and the ‘growth areas’ as we strive to maintain excellent quality of life for the entire county,” Howard said in the statement.
Howard said he would not support significant or substantial growth in the plan and will work to have it modified before the Board of County Commissioners considers it for adoption. He said there must be a demonstrated need, appropriate infrastructure and resources, and adequate county support to offset the burdens of growth to justify residential growth in the area.
“In my opinion, this criteria has not been met and there should be no significant increase of density or residential growth in the Freedom area with this plan,” Howard said. The commissioner went on to note the lack of improvements to Md. routes 26 and 32, limitations on sewer capacity, and lack of support from the county to “mitigate rising water costs, provide for a full sheriff precinct or make other improvements that could support some of the burdens of growth put on this area.”
The public hearing for the Freedom plan is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 11 at the Liberty High School auditorium in Eldersburg.
And Soisson said although the plan is “pretty much done” and the end of the process seems near, no one can be certain when the new plan will be adopted as more changes could be made.
“One never knows,” he said. “We will certainly listen to the public. We get copies of all the comments people send in and email to the planning department and it keeps us up-to-date on what people’s concerns are.
“We really are trying to address a lot of these concerns,” said Soisson, “but on the same token it’s difficult for us because this is one of the few areas left that’s a priority growth area — so we are trying to balance that all out, and some people are not going to be too excited about it, and I understand that.”
The full plan is available for review at www.freedomareaplan.org, and interactive maps are available for residents looking to see what land use changes have been made from the 2001 version. Residents can also make comments, view studies and past plans.