Commissioners take back control of Freedom Plan, vow to finish it by December

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners voted to take the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan back from the Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday, to ensure it is finished before Commissioners Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, and Doug Howard, R-District 5, leave office in December.

The long-term guide for growth in South Carroll provides an outline of future land uses, infrastructure and roads that will ultimately guide future zoning changes and public works projects. State law requires that the plan be updated every 10 years, but the plan currently in place was adopted in 2001.


The two commissioners represent the areas discussed in the plan, and said at their meeting Thursday that they spent too much time on it to have it slowed by P&Z’s proposed next step — a traffic study at Md. 32 and Bennett Road, that the state is already planning multi-million dollar infrastructure improvements for.

It could extend completion past the end of their terms, and they want to complete the plan this year.


This “doesn’t reflect negatively on the work that has been done by the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Howard said. “I think there has been a tremendous amount of work done by our Planning Commission — getting all this information, hearing from the community, compiling all this information is a herculean task.”

It figures to be a busy week for the Board of County Commissioners, with more than 20 items on the agenda for its Thursday meeting.

But now efforts to gather information for the plan are being duplicated, Howard said, with traffic information that was requested three to four years ago, brought up again after the most recent public hearing.

And what’s worse, he said, is that a traffic study will be based on the proposed density of the area in the current plan — causing it to be a flawed study, because the commissioners and the community do not support the increases in density to the extent they’ve been proposed in the plan.

“I can’t walk away from the responsibility of finishing this plan,” Howard said.


Howard said the only solution to the problem he could see was to rescind the decision made last October to send the plan to P&Z and have the board take it back.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, asked Planning Department Acting Director Lynda Eisenberg at the meeting if everything the board asked of P&Z had been completed.

“Correct,” she said. “It is a complete plan.”

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, suggested the board wait to make a decision on taking the plan back until next week.

“I would suggest perhaps it goes on next week’s calendar,” said Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, “that it’s considered being taken away from the Planning Commission and back to the commissioners so everyone knows what’s going on. This is coming out of left field or right field, depending on how you play baseball.”

But Thursday’s agenda item was listed as public comment on the Freedom Plan updates and direction — with briefing, discussion, and a possible decision included.

“We are dealing with a time frame that is very compressed,” Howard said, “but to give an update and give direction is exactly what we are doing.”

Even so, Frazier said he disagreed with the decision Howard was suggesting.

The Mount Airy Mayor and Town Council approved rezoning a property on Twin Arch Road from residential to industrial after a rare, court-like public hearing Monday, Aug. 6.

“I think the priority to get the Freedom Plan done is in front of this board,” Frazier said. “However, when the board decided to send it back to the Planning and Zoning Commission, we put it in their hands. To be frank, I voted against that, but we put it in their hands.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission spent two years working on an update to the plan, culminating in an approved draft that was sent to the county commissioners in July 2017. The commissioners then had the authority to make any changes they wished to the plan before voting to “adopt” it, the official term for the final vote of approval that would begin the implementation of the plan.

But after identifying several issues they did not like with the plan, and faced with an Oct. 23 deadline to make a decision, the county commissioners decided on Oct. 3 to remand the Freedom Plan back to the planning commission for another look.

“They have a right to go through and review this,” Frazier said Thursday. “What they’re talking about, that traffic study, it was brought up at the public hearing they had… Therefore, they should and have a right to look at that. Just because it takes this out of the scope of time we’d like to get it done, I think that takes a backseat to the fact that we gave it to the Planning and Zoning Commission. We could have kept it and made changes, but we [didn’t]. I just think it would be wrong to take it out of their hands before they’re completely finished with it. Is the timing working out? No. But that's not in our hands.”Rothschild, Howard and Wantz disagreed.

“My summary on why I think we need to do this,” Rothschild said, “is a lot of the premises that we assumed early on were not correct. They are not supported [by the research, statistics and community feedback] and at this point, not supported by the District 4 and District 5 commissioners. I think we need to take this plan back and fix it. A traffic study is not sufficient grounds to be able to halt this plan.

More than 100 residents of Eldersburg and Sykesville came out Wednesday night for a public hearing on the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan. Many of those in attendance came to Liberty High School to lament the plan’s vision of growth for an area they wish to preserve..

“We have the information we need to make and informed decision for a plan that’s wise, that’s respectful of the work of the Planning Commission, respectful of the public comment and respectful of what’s good for Carroll County,” Rothschild said.

After the meeting, Rothschild told the Times that he has a new draft of the plan in the works that he hopes to reveal this week.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said he was torn.

“I know two members of the board here are going to be off the board, with term limits in December,” he said. “What do we do as a board? Do we admit we maybe made a mistake and rescind this, or will we look at what we have to do? How much confidence do we have in Planning and Zoning to handle this?”

Howard said Wantz was looking tense, and asked him to share his thoughts.

The commissioner said he was conflicted with the procedural requirements, and whether or not voting to rescind the original decision was a good idea.

“I will probably be the first person to tell you we were wrong [to vote for it initially],” Wantz said. “We should have taken the plan then and finished it.

“I applaud you [Frazier] because you voted against it,” he said. “We should have taken it then. This continues to boil and boil and boil, until there’s nothing left in the pot. It’s boiled and the pot is on fire.

“But it’s a matter of fairness to me,” said Wantz. “I can’t in good faith, right now, have something like a traffic study push this off that will disallow two of my colleagues — who have a vested interest in this — to not have part in the decision-making. That's the toughest thing that I'm dealing with right now... It would not be fair at this point to bring two new people into this to make a decision when we have worked tirelessly to try to get this thing done.”


Howard suggested the motion to rescind the decision to remand the plan back to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and it was voted 3-1-1, with Frazier dissenting and Weaver abstaining.


“I would have liked to have held this until next week,” Weaver said. “Both sides have good points, but wow.”

After the meeting, Richard Soisson, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, told the Times he wished the decision was held off until next week as well, and that the decision to take the plan from the commission was like a slap in the face.

“I give Dennis Frazier a lot of credit,” said Soisson. “We may well have worked something else out [to get the plan approved by December]. But we didn’t even get the chance. They decided they were going to take it back and they did.”

He also said the traffic study wouldn’t be as useless as the county commissioners insinuated — it would have been performed around all three of the big properties slated for density increases in the Freedom area, not just Bennett Road.

“We’re going to do the study,” he said, “because of all the comments we got about [residents’] concerns about traffic, and how this higher density is going to impact traffic.

“And it’s a valid point,” said Soisson. “So we wanted to get more information about really what would happen with these different densities. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council, they were going to do the study for us at no cost to the county. Now we’re not going to do that study.”

Maryland House of Delegates member Susan Krebs lives in South Carroll and as a member of the Freedom Area Citizens Council in the early 2000s, was involved in the development of the 2001 Freedom Plan. She was also involved in the plans to improve the intersection in question, which she believes is a failure.

“Two of the big properties they want to redevelop are connected to the intersection [at Md. 32 and Bennett Road],” Krebs said Thursday afternoon. “[The improvements are] not to improve capacity. They’re redeveloping the turn lanes based on what’s there on the ground. There’s nothing on the ground, nothing in there to build in for all this new commercial all the residential development. Why in the heck would we say we are going to change all this?

“They never improve anything,” she said. “They never follow up and do the road improvements on the county level.”

She said she was also frustrated that the plan does not include sufficient parks and green space, and that the boulevard on Md. 32 that residents requested during the time the last plan was developed was taken out of the new plan.

“The people said they wanted a boulevard district that looked nice to walk up and down,” said Krebs. “Fifteen years later, instead of doing anything with it, they took it out.”

Everything is being done backwards, she said, with a plan created and presented to the residents of Freedom instead of a plan created with discussion and active input from Freedom residents.

But all in all, Soisson said it’s his commission’s job “to try to develop the best plan possible, based on good planning principles, that’s good for the whole county as well as Freedom,” and growth is not something that everyone will always like.

After this decision, though, it’s up to the five commissioners to take on that responsibility.

“It’s their plan now,” he said. “I wish them luck.”