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News Maryland Carroll County Hampstead Finksburg

Finksburg Corridor Plan nears adoption despite critics

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners will vote Aug. 29 to adopt the long-awaited Finksburg Corridor Plan, but some residents don't think it will make a difference.

"It's not worth the paper it's written on," Finksburg resident Neil Ridgely said of the proposed plan. "It doesn't do anything for the community."

Commissioners were briefed on the plan Thursday after it was passed by the county planning and zoning commission July 16.

The Finksburg Corridor Plan is intended to promote new small-scale business, office and retail activity in the corridor while providing opportunities for residential uses on secondary roadways of Route 140. It has been in the works for more than 10 years and began as a comprehensive update to the 1981 Finksburg Area and Environs Comprehensive Plan.

The corridor is roughly defined as the area along Route 140 from the Baltimore County line to the east to Kays Mill Road in the west.

Commissioners rejected a previous version of the plan in 2011 by a vote of 4-1.

Commissioner Haven Shoemaker—whose district includes the corridor— was the lone commissioner to vote for the plan. In September 2012, the board sent the plan, along with comments, back to the planning commission for revisions.

Almost a year later, the plan no longer contains a boulevard zoning district, a proposed zoning that was intended to stimulate commercial development. Design guidelines that cover new construction and renovations can now be bypassed if a property owner shows they can't afford the suggested design modifications.

The plan also includes a controversial rezoning of a property at the corner of Routes 140 and 91 from conservation to commercial. Residents have said that they have not been made aware of the property owner's plans for the 15-acre property.

Ridgely, who co-founded the Finksburg Planning and Citizens' Council (FPACC) as an advocacy group for the area, said eliminating the boulevard district and design guidelines regulation leaves nothing in the plan that suggests improvement along the corridor.

"Instead of being a gateway to Carroll, it's the ghetto for Carroll County and it's going to get worse," he said.

Ridgely, a vocal critic of the current board of commissioners and a former county employee, said his frustation with the plan is not because he has an ax to grind.

"I'm a disgruntled citizen, there's no doubt about that," he said.

While Ridgely believes the current plan will not have a positive impact on the corridor, county commissioner Robin Frazier said Thursday that there are many aspects of the plan, particularly the design guidelines, that seem like government overreach.

"I don't think government should be involved in the design or aesthetics at all," she said.

Shoemaker, who acknowledged that the current version of the plan is "watered down," said he hasn't heard much opposition to the proposal.

"From my contacts in FInksburg, they're pretty happy that a plan is finally emerging since 1981," Shoemaker said.

In response to Frazier's comments Thursday, Shoemaker asked if she wanted "the same crappy corridor we have now."

John Lopez, a past president of FPACC, believes the current plan will have "absolutely no impact" on the corridor.

He said the process has been an anguishing one for county residents over the years as they now see all their work on the plan go for naught.

"All that work is basically tossed out the window," he said. "It's really been a very, very frustrating, very infuriating process."

Lopez, who moved to Finksburg in 1980, is in the process of selling his home and moving to South Carolina.

He said it's just not this board of commissioners that have ignored the corridor, but the previous boards as well.

"The entire corridor coming into Carroll County is really a blight," he said.

County planning director Phil Hager said while some people see the adoption of a plan as the end, it's really just the first step.

Hager said the plan represents a compromise from what early stakeholders established and what the county commissioners now feel is appropriate.

"The most important thing is that this is still a viable guidance document," he said.

According to Gary Kerns, a member of FPAC and former Baltimore County planner, the corridor plan is not as strong as the plan proposed in 2010 and might be too general.

"The bottom line is that this plan is a little more general, it's more vague and not specific enough," he said.

Kerns added that the current plan does not have any specific items that can be implemented initially, but said approving the plan represents a step forward.

"I hope that it will lead to the improvements that we want to see, but that remains to be seen," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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