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Another year in planning freedom

Another year in planning freedom
Carroll County Commissioners, from left, Stephen Wantz, Richard Weaver, Dennis Frazier, Richard Rothschild and Doug Howard remanded the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan back to Carroll's Planning and Zoning Commission. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

As 2017 drew to a close, the status of the long overdue Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan looks strikingly similar to the end of 2016. After two years of work on the plan by the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of County Commissioner’s ultimately remanded the plan back to the planning commission for another go.

The Freedom plan is a long-term guide for growth in South Carroll, providing an outline of land uses, roads and infrastructure that will ultimately guide future zoning changes and public works projects.

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State law requires that the plan be updated every 10 years, but the plan currently in place was adopted in 2001.

On Nov. 29, the planning commission took up the Freedom plan again, taking a close look at a letter sent by the commissioners in an attempt to clarify what the board hoped the commission might do differently this time around. One of those directions from the board was to “pay close attention to the quality of life priorities that originally attracted citizens to Freedom.”

This moved planning commission member Gene Canale to remark, “How do we know what really attracted citizens to Freedom?”

In a subsequent meeting of the Board of Commissioners on Nov. 30, Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, took issue with Canale’s remark.

“A year into this plan, I would hope that we know what originally attracted citizens to Freedom,” Rothschild said. “I will speak for myself, because there may be commissioners that don’t agree with me, but having been in Carroll County for 22 years I know why people moved here from the surrounding counties. They were in search of a more rural, more relaxed lifestyle, with less density, less urbanization, less traffic and less congestion.”

Rothschild, as he noted, did not speak for all five county commissioners — Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, took issue with Rothschild’s assertion.

“Unless we are going to invoke some sort of a survey or something like that, there is just no serious way to say, ‘This is what brought people here,’” Howard said at the meeting. “We can talk about what people told us, we can talk about our own experiences, but the fact is we really don’t know.”

The difference in opinion between Howard and Rothschild, as well as Canale, is illustrative of the controversies that have surrounded the freedom plan process for all of 2017.

The public planning process

After more than two years of work, the planning commission first accepted a version of an updated Freedom plan update in April, the first of three steps toward official implementation, former County Director of Land Use Planning and Development Phil Hager explained at the time.

"There are three 'A' words, and we actually capitalize all three of those words ... Accepted, Approve and Adopt," he said. "The name we give the plan when it is complete is called 'Accepted.'"

The complete, proposed plan update, accepted by the planning commission, was then sent to state agencies for a 60-day review, followed by a public hearing, with public comments accepted along the way.

Many people living in the Freedom District, and some officials as well, took issue with elements of the plan, as well as how much public input was included by the planning commission.

In May, Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, who lives in the Freedom District, said that the planning process was not as open and informed by local citizens as it had been for the 20001 plan. That planning commission, she told the Times at the time, had sent out fliers to everyone in the district to get them involved.

"They also appointed a community advisory group," Krebs said. "They went to the Freedom area and they engaged the community. They picked representatives to be on this council to advise the Planning Commission."

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Howard would later push back on this argument, saying that the planning commission is the public process by which community feedback is included in the planning process.

"We could not know this much about what's on people's minds if we did not have an open process — I don't think people realize what a closed process looks like," he said in June. "As elected officials, we are not required by law to have a planning commission, we could do it ourselves. But if you are going to do that and appoint people and have a public process, you have to trust it."

Michael Reeves, of developer Williams Quarters LLC, associated with the Beatty property, spoke in favor of the Freedom Plan at the public hearing on Thursday, June 8 at Liberty High School.- Original Credit: Jon Kelveyy/Times Photo
Michael Reeves, of developer Williams Quarters LLC, associated with the Beatty property, spoke in favor of the Freedom Plan at the public hearing on Thursday, June 8 at Liberty High School.- Original Credit: Jon Kelveyy/Times Photo (Jon Kelvey/Times Photo / HANDOUT)
Freedom to the county commissioners

The planning commission approved the freedom plan update in July, the second of Hager’s three “A’s,” sending the plan to the Board of County Commissioners for the final step of the process. If the commissioners voted to adopt the plan, the third “A,” the plan would begin to be implemented, though the commissioners had several other options, Hager said at the time.

“They can remand the plan to the planning commission for treatment of a particular section of the plan they would like to see modified or they can choose to modify something in the plan themselves,” Hager said. “Any of these activities will require a public hearing on the part of the commissioners.”

The commissioners held their first meeting on the freedom plan on Sept. 6 and were initially optimistic they could work out the issues they had with the plan before an Oct. 23 deadline to make a decision.

Back to the planning board

By Oct. 3, however, the commissioners had decided to remand the plan back to the planning commission, and then issued further clarification in a letter on Nov. 9.

While the planning commission was scheduled to take up the Freedom plan at its Dec. 19 meeting, the process continues into another year.

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