County Commissioners remand Freedom Plan to the planning commission

Carroll's Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to remand the Freedom Area Comprehensive plan back to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The commissioners had been scheduled to hold a public hearing on the plan on Oct. 19 and to make a final decision on adopting the plan on Oct. 23 — by statute, the Freedom Plan would have gone into effect automatically had the commissioners failed to make a decision by Oct. 23.


Tuesday's vote completely resets that clock, as the planning commission takes back up the plan it had previously spent more than a year crafting.

The Freedom Plan creates a long-term guide for future growth in the South Carroll area — on the order of 25 years — in terms of roads, resources and future land use designations, which can then guide future zoning changes. State guidelines require the plan be updated every 10 years, but it was last updated in 2001 — that plan is technically still guiding development in the Freedom Area.

The planning commission accepted a draft of a new plan in April, and voted to approve and send it to the county commissioners in July.

The commissioners had the power to immediately adopt the plan as it was transmitted to them, leading to its implementation; reject it and ask the planning commission to start from scratch; alter it themselves and then adopt it; or, remand it back to the planning commission with instructions to take a second look at certain parts of the it.

Unable to come to an agreement on how to alter the plan for adoption, or if it even needed alteration, the board chose the latter option.

"I think we should make the decisions right now to remand it back to the planning commission, but, with a list of things we want them to look at. Not start over from scratch," said Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4. "I think it will be more than just five or six items, but if they do that there is a good chance they could turn this plan around in 60 days and get it back to us."

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, who had served as an ex officio member of the planning commission and voted for the plan as a member of that body, disagreed and was the dissenting vote.

"If it's only five or six items, why don't we deal with it ourselves? I don't understand," Frazier said. "I am happy with the Freedom Plan. I wasn't planning on bringing anything up to be honest with you."

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, was also critical of the idea of sending the plan back to the planning commission.

"I am close to Commissioner Frazier on this. I think it's a good plan, but I do think there are a couple of things that need to be tweaked," he said. What he would not do, Wantz added, was vote in "any way that takes away the incredible amount of work that has been put together by volunteers. And that's what our planning folks are."

It was Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, who made the official motion to remand the plan. During the more than 12 months the planning commission spent drafting the plan, much of the critical public comment centered around that process itself and whether enough public input had been included. He said he felt that criticism had made the planning process illegitimate in the eyes of some members of the public.

"Gentlemen, I don't believe there are any series of discussions, discussion or outcomes that we could have, as good as they would be, that at this point, with all that's been done to undermine the process, that would support the process," Howard said, noting that he would like Rothschild to take charge of public outreach to ensure adequate public input. "What I don't want at the end of this process is someone to come back and say, 'I still didn't get what I wanted, so the process was no good.' "

Howard and Rothschild agreed that there were at least two areas of the Freedom Plan that they would like the planning commission to address, and Howard included them in his motion.

The first was to more clearly define the land use designations in the plan — things such as low, medium or high density residential — which help guide future zoning changes.


The second part of the motion was to ask the planning commission to conduct a parcel-by-parcel analysis of the land use changes included in the plan in order to justify all changes, specifically changes related to changes that have already taken place on the ground and parcels designated for higher density use than in the 2001 plan. These fall under the portions of the Freedom Plan labeled Concept 2 and Concept 3.

Howard also included a deadline of April 1, 2018, in his motion.

"I want to make very clear, this is not intended as a slap in the face to the planning commission," Howard said. "It is actually intended as a sign of faith in the planning commission by virtue of the work they have done, the serious approach they have taken."

The planning commission will now take up the Freedom Plan once again, work through the process, hold another official public hearing, and then vote again on the Freedom Plan before sending it back to the commissioners, Lynda Eisenberg, Carroll County chief of planning, told the board at their meeting. But that work won't start right away.

"The October agenda has already been set, so we realistically wouldn't be able to bring it to them till November," Eisenberg said.