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Southern Carroll County residents still seeking rezoning answers: ‘If we build it and they come, then what?’

The Freedom District Citizens Association held its monthly meeting on Oct. 21 in hopes of gaining some clarity about Carroll County’s plans to rezone part of its community. Instead, FDCA board members said they left still unsure as to what the future holds with the issues that might impact where they live.

The Department of Planning has been working with several other county departments to update the county’s zoning for the past five years. Comprehensive rezoning involves updating and changing the zoning code and map to implement the 2014 Carroll County Master Plan and the 2018 Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan. An original plan for countywide rezoning dates to the 1960s.

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The FDCA, born from last year’s county land-use plan approval, is a self-created community group that has a goal of meeting with local organizations and county officials in order to inform the public.

That Freedom plan features some 26,000 acres set aside to focus on growth and development, according to Carroll County planning director Lynda Eisenberg. Two of the larger areas, Eisenberg said ― one located near Md. 32 next to Bennett Road and Progress Way, the other near the intersection of Ridge and Marriottsville roads ― are tabbed to help create a good balance with Carroll’s farmland and agricultural areas alongside sections designated for residential properties, businesses, schools and the like.

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“You have to be able to grow and develop, so let’s do it in a thoughtful way,” Eisenberg said.

Lynda Eisenberg is Carroll County's planning director.
Lynda Eisenberg is Carroll County's planning director. (Courtesy photo / BSMG)

Freedom is the largest growth area in Carroll that is under county control, she said. But it’s those large areas in particular ― the Beatty property along Md. 32, and the Zabel property closer to the Carroll-Howard county border ― with available infrastructure that have FDCA members wary of the county’s rezoning plans.

“The question is, OK, so if we do this, and we increase the density on all these properties, what is the county going to do to improve Ridge Road, Marriottsville Road, Carrolltowne Elementary, Oklahoma Road Middle School and Liberty High School?” said Pete Lester, an FDCA trustee. “Because they’re already ... at capacity both today and as we look into the future. So, what are they going to do?”

Lester said the FDCA, led by president Tim Passarello and vice president Christine Centofani, wants county government to be as transparent as possible with its rezoning strategies.

“It seems to us as a community that we just ... the county just doesn’t really listen to us,” Lester said. “We have aspirations for that part of the county where we would want for it to be a nice place to live. Not an exclusive place to live ... we’re not trying to keep anybody out. But we do want it to be a nice place.

“If we’re not careful, Eldersburg is going to end up being kind of a hodgepodge. It’s not really going to have a sense of place, a sense of itself.”

FDCA board member Katie Gerity said landowners around the Beatty and Zabel properties are curious as to why the county is exhibiting a rush to rezone the area. There doesn’t seem to a clear vision or concept despite that being included in the Freedom plan as a goal, Gerity said.

“Many of us feel that we’re just left with this piecemeal zoning,” Gerity said. “Anything gets approved, anything gets passed.”

Eisenberg said that’s not the case.

“This is not a piecemeal rezoning,” she said at an Oct. 13 county commissioners work session. “We are establishing that this is consistent with the plan and that the plan is the overarching goal and objective of implementation that we are trying to achieve.”

County Commissioner Ed Rothstein represents southern Carroll (District 5). Lester said he has faith in Rothstein when it comes to relaying the FDCA’s issues to his fellow commissioners, but Gerity said she’s aware that he’s only one of five voices in that group.

“None of these individual groups seem to be talking to each other in a ... manner that is conducive to rational thinking,” Gerity said. “I think Commissioner Rothstein is trying to do his best.”

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Gerity said she hopes the FCDA can gather numbers and attention with some more public hearings and “listening sessions” planned for the next couple of months.

“So the hope is that, as this group grows and gets more people involved and more people can speak,” she said, “that something can change.”

The next listening session with the commissioners is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, but that one is set to deal with non-residential zoning issues. The commissioners will then have three work sessions, starting at 9 a.m., on Nov. 3, 10 and 24. A public hearing is planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 3.

The Beatty and Zabel properties will be scheduled for public comment and discussion in the future, according to Carroll County government spokesperson Chris Winebrenner.

These meetings are slated to be held virtually, and those who wish to call in to comment are asked to sign up on the county website. Information about the proposed comprehensive rezoning and specific properties can be found online at carrollrezoning.org.

“We really don’t feel like we have much voice, or much say,” Lester said. “We [in the FDCA] have a vision ... the one thing we share is, we like where we live, we like the schools, we like the pace. We moved there for a reason. And we don’t want that to be undermined because the county desires something else for us.”

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