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County Commissioners get technical with Freedom Plan

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners met for the third time to discuss the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday afternoon, aiming to work through issues they have with the plan prior to Oct. 26.

That's the date when the plan, as approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission July 18, automatically becomes effective.

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The Freedom Plan provides a guide for future land use, roads and development in the South Carroll area over the next 25 years, and is significantly overdue: Under the state's Land Use Article of Code, the plan must be updated every 10 years. The current plan that is in effect was formally adopted in 2001.

The planning commission spent more than a year drafting an update to the plan before unanimously voting to approve a draft and send it to the board of commissioners in July.

The commissioners now have the authority to make changes to the plan before formally adopting it, the final step that would begin the plan's implementation. The board could also send portions of the plan back to the planning commission to work on or reject it outright and ask the planning commission to start from scratch, although the county commissioners have previously expressed little enthusiasm for this option.

The five county commissioners next plan to address the public concerning the plan on Thursday evening during an open forum at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center.

A formal public hearing on the plan is scheduled for Oct. 19 at Century High School.

Following a request by the commissioners at their Sept. 14 meeting, a number of spreadsheets and other materials have now been uploaded to the website at www.freedomareaplan.org, including spreadsheets showing changes in land use designation from the 2001 plan and the current draft. Much of Tuesday's discussion focused on the technical details of these changes and the underlying philosophy.

A number of properties, those found listed under "concept 1" or "technical" on the website for instance, are being changed from either low density residential, or agricultural land uses to resource conservation. Commissioner Rothschild, R-District 4, was concerned that the definition of a resources conservation land use district was ambiguous.

"Agriculture [land use] has all these uses, including houses, and resource conservation sounds like it's just resource conservation and it doesn't allow anything," he said. "Until we have these definitions a little bit better, we are putting things into classifications that have nice names but the names don't mean anything."

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5 agreed with Rothschild about the definition of resource conservation land use, but while Rothschild suggested asking the planning commission to take another stab at defining the land use categories, Howard questioned the necessity of a resource conservation district altogether.

"We don't have it defined; we don't necessarily know there is a reason for it," Howard said. "I am going to make the motion that we take resource conservation out of the plan and anything that was changed to resource conservation stays the way it is."

That decision, which passed 4-1, with Rothschild voting no, could end up affecting the 1,307 acres of land — by Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2's count —in the Freedom District that were planned to change from agriculture to resource conservation. But that's only if that change is ultimately what ends up in the adopted plan. As County Administrator Roberta Windham noted to the board during the meeting, the current process is much like creating a budget, with votes being taken now shaping a draft that will be presented to the public at the Oct. 19 public hearing.

"In your budget, you make all kinds of decisions to get your budget, the budget gets published, you have a public hearing, then you make changes, or not, based on what you hear at the hearing," she said. "If you follow that process I think … it will be good for the public."

The next opportunity for the public to provide input on the plan will be the 7 p.m. public forum on Thursday at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center, where the commissioners will respond to public comment, unlike in a formal public hearing.

Howard was looking forward to discussing the changes the board has already been making in response to public input and their own analysis of the Freedom Plan.

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"If we are not 100 percent sure, we are going to err on the side of caution. We are not going to change for change's sake," he said. "I think that sends a powerful message."

Future Freedom Plan Meetings with the Carroll County Commissioners:

Thursday, Sept. 21: 7 p.m. public forum at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center, 5928 Mineral Hill Road, Eldersburg.

Thursday, Oct. 19: 7 p.m. public hearing at Century High School, 355 Ronsdale Road, Sykesville.

Monday, Oct. 23: 3 p.m. final discussion and decision during open session, Carroll County Office Building, Room 311, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.



jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-3317

twitter.com/CCT_Health

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