Commissioners, public dialogue on Freedom Plan

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners has now met five times to discuss the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan, if you include both their Thursday afternoon open session discussion and the public forum hosted that evening at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center.

The board may schedule additional meeting dates to discuss and modify the plan that was approved by the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission on July 18, and passed on to the board shortly thereafter. By the original schedule, there was to be only a public hearing on Oct. 19, and a final decision made on Oct. 23


The senior center parking lot was filled Thursday evening, and the dining hall filled with more than 100 people who had come out to either ask questions of, or witness other people's questioning of the five county commissioners with regards to the Freedom Plan.

The plan is a guiding document for development in the South Carroll area over the next quarter-century, marking land use, road and resources changes that will inform future zoning and development decisions. It is also 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 and guiding growth in the Freedom District 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 commissioners in July. The Board of County Commissioners now has the authority to make changes to the plan before formally adopting it, which will begin its implementation.

If they fail to do so by Oct. 26, however, the plan as approved by the planning commission will automatically go into effect.

Many of the comments and questions people brought to the commissioners Thursday evening were similar to those that had been brought up in meetings and in writing during the Planning Commission process of the past year: Many people voiced concern about higher-density housing changing the rural character of the community, contributing to traffic congestion and crime. Many people said they believed the process had been opaque and many of the terms and categories used, land use designations such as high- or medium-density residential, were ambiguously defined and difficult to follow on a map.

Others were concerned about increased crime and some asked why it wasn't possible to simply reaffirm the 2001 Freedom Plan to satisfy state requirements.

"Send it back to the planning commission for them to update the original plan," said Ross Dangel, who lives in Sykesville.

Eldersburg resident Kim Madeja told the board she felt the county was searching for an identity, grappling with whether to be agricultural or a manufacturing center, and that this had impacted the plan. She felt the plan had to be altered before being adopted.

"The plan before you is not addressing the concerns of the citizens who live, work and play here," she said. "We cannot accept a plan just because a large amount of time was spent on it."

Wayne Schuster, meanwhile, a retired planner and former member of the planning commission, offered more specific critiques of the plan. He noted, for instance, that the current regulations are insufficient for ensuring a developer of a parcel will sufficiently contribute to, say, efforts to mitigate additional traffic caused by their project on that parcel.

"There is no mechanism that I have ever seen that allows the county to quantify the impacts on Md. 32 and Md. 26 and have the developer of the parcel contribute in some way to those impacts," Schuster said. If large parcels such as Wolf and Beatty are developed, he said, "they are going to feed to the road system. There is no mechanism to address the level of impact. That has to change in order to be successful."

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, speaking in an interview after the meeting, felt Schuster's comments were spot on.

"Those are the types of comments that I feel are critically constructive as we move forward," he said. "We continue to talk about density and what that means, but with that has to come the proper infrastructure to handle the density."

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said both in the meeting and in an interview that he felt the idea of sending the plan back to the planning commission was misguided.


"That you would return the plan to the very process that people had concerns about seems ludicrous to me," he said.

And while some people pointed to an increase in crime in the Freedom District, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, pointed out in an interview that insofar as problems in the community today can be attributed to planning, they are related to the 2001 plan, not the new plan under consideration.

"The problems in that community now are as a result of not implementing the 2001 plan the way it was drawn out," he said, noting that many properties had been granted exceptions by the Board of Zoning Appeals that went contrary to the principles laid out in the 2001 plan.

Those changes, Howard said at the meeting, were another reason why the plan needed to be changed, that a new plan had to take into account changes what had already happened on the ground. At the same time, Howard said in an interview, after listening to public comment at the forum, he felt this was something the board needed to take a closer look at.

"What we are hearing loud and clear is there is a lot of concern about this idea to adjust things to the way things have developed," Howard said. "I think we need to be much more focused on property by property than we thought two weeks ago."

"The people were heard — I hope they understand we definitely heard what they said," Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said in an interview. "Everybody was taking notes of what they said."

Weaver's notes focused on one woman's comment about wanting Eldersburg to be a "lifetime community," and how people said they were not necessarily opposed to change, but they wanted to know the reasons for the changes.

"That came through loud and clear from two-thirds of the people there. That is one of the things that I wrote down in large letters," he said. "That's one of the questions we will be asking."

For Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, the forum helped confirm his prior belief — that people were not opposed to growth, but opposed to residential development that radically altered the character of their neighborhoods.

"The message we have here is if we build our business base intelligently and respectfully, in a way that respects our community, the citizens will respect it," Rothschild said. "What they clearly do not want is high-density housing being being dropped into their their existing single family home neighborhoods."

What all the commissioners are in agreement about is that there is a lot of work left to do. Weaver said the board has added two more potential dates to meet and discuss the plan, Oct. 3 and Oct. 12, the exact times to be determined, should they need them to get the job done.

The board was divided in how optimistic a plan that really was. Frazier, for instance, was fairly confident the plan would be voted on and adopted within the official review period.


Rothschild, meanwhile, wasn't sure the board could get everything done it needs to before the Oct. 26 deadline and believed that at least some portion of the plan would have to be sent back to the planning commission.

"It's just going to be too much work for the commissioners to do on our own. We don't have enough time to do it correctly," he said. "We still have some very difficult decisions that will have to be made, that will be real teeth-gnashers."

Howard, meanwhile, believes that the twin need to justify changes over the 2001 plan and meet the deadline may simply lead to their passing a simpler plan.

"It's probably going to be a less ambitious plan that what the planning commission came up with," he said. "I don't want a plan that we can't implement — if we can't put resources behind it, we need to slow down."

Future public meetings on the Freedom Plan
  • 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.

For more information on the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan, visit