Planning and Zoning calls out Carroll commissioners in letter about the Freedom Plan

The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission sent a three-page letter to the Board of County Commissioners Oct. 16 raising “serious concerns about the process” the board used to take the Freedom Plan back from the planning commission this August, calling it “a sham ... driven by politics when it was supposed to be insulated from politics.”

“This recission jeopardizes the plan you purport to finalize,” the letter states in its opening. “It is also highly disrespectful to this Commission as well as the county staff and the public, and is simply not acceptable to us as we go forward.”


The letter outlines how the BOCC remanded the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan — a 10-year master plan for development in the unincorporated Freedom Area that hasn’t been updated since 2001 — to P&Z in November 2017.

When the county commissioners sent the plan to P&Z almost a year ago, it sent a letter with it outlining what the planning commission would be requested to do.


Directions in the Nov. 16, 2017 letter included to revisit the document’s vision statement, clarify land use designation definitions, add new land use designations as needed and review each of the large properties slated for a land use designation change — explaining why the land use change was needed.

The Planning and Zoning Commission sent a letter to the county commissioners Tuesday, calling the process to rescind the remand of the Freedom Plan "a sham."

“Thereafter,” the planning commission’s letter states: “the Commission spent many hours seeking to comply with the requests of the Board as set forth in the [2017 letter]. The Commission, as always, was supported by the good and substantial work of the county staff.

“The Commission spent many hours interacting with the public and seeking public comment and listening to public presentations consistent with instructions form the Board concerning its remand,” the letter continues. “The Commission also met with the Board in joint meetings to seek guidance and input from the Board so as to ensure that the Commission's actions were consistent with the Board’s instructions and desires.”

Commission Chairman Richard Soisson told the Times Tuesday that comments Commissioners Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, and Doug Howard, R-District 5, made at the August meeting when the board voted to take back the plan were not justifiable reasons to rescind the remand.


Rothschild and Howard said at that meeting that of highest priority was completing the Freedom Plan before they left office in December of this year.

Soisson said that was never communicated to the planning commission before Aug. 23.

“There was no concern about time,” he said Tuesday.

After about an hour and half of discussion on Oct. 10, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan.

Taking the plan back from P&Z before the commission had the chance to complete its work, “quite simply render[ed] irrelevant the work done by the Commission, the county staff, and the public,” the letter states.

“The Board [of County Commissioners] made quite clear that they were accepting back the 2017 plan that had been presented to them nine months earlier,” it states. “The work performed in the intervening nine months was, obviously, not part of the plan that had been previously approved.”

The process, according to the letter, “was driven by politics.”

“That is precisely why the Commission is made up of community volunteers appointed for five-year terms,” it states. “The perversion of this process undermines this Commission’s faith in the Board and, more importantly, undermines the public’s faith in government.”

The deciding vote

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, was the deciding vote that day — and said Tuesday he stands by his original choice to take back the plan.

“I find much of the language and the tone of the letter to be very disheartening,” he told the Times. “To have members of a commission — who are involved in the process as they were — labeling the process as a sham is also very disheartening to me.

“I remain adamant that was the best way in which to move forward with this plan,” he said, “and not just from a responsibility standpoint, but also out of respect for my colleagues who I continue to believe wanted to see this process to the end.”

He also reiterated a point he made countless times as an ex-officio member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, seeing everything from the inside.

“I’ve said many times, I continue to say it: We are very mindful and respectful of all the work all the folks at the Planning Commission put into this,” said Wantz. “Much of the basis and foundation of the Freedom Plan is a direct result of the countless hours that they’ve put in. That needs to be said.”

The departing commissioners

Rothschild also stands his ground as a supporter of taking back the plan, stating in an Oct. 16 email that P&Z “was caught in a three-way crossfire between community members, developers and commissioners.”

“Regardless,” he said, “ultimately, a comprehensive plan must reflect the dominant vision of citizens that live in the community. It didn’t. It moved the community too far in the direction of high density development and [planned unit developments].

“When the gears of government run astray, sometimes leadership demands we take decisive action — and we did,” he said.

Howard — who also voted in favor of the recission — did not respond to requests for comment.

The abstention

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, abstained from the Aug. 23 vote and told the Times Tuesday that the P&Z had every right to be upset.

“This whole process has been wrong all along here,” Weaver said. “This is kind of ridiculous.

“Planning and Zoning should be upset,” he said. “It just wasn’t right, the way it was handled, and I think we could have met with the [planning commission] and worked this all out — but the [others] were in such a hurry to get things done, we couldn’t wait.

“I didn’t agree with any of it at that time,” Weaver said. “It shouldn’t have been a vote we’d even taken.”

The dissension

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, voted against sending the plan back to Planning and Zoning last November and again against taking it back in August.

“When we first got the plan 11 months ago we had the ability then to make changes we wanted to make,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “So after we got the plan from them why didn’t we make the changes ourselves? We didn’t. The board decided to send it back to them.

“The land use definitions were much better when we gave it back so that worked out very well,” he said, but I just felt: No. 1, we shouldn’t have sent it back, and No. 2, if we sent it back to them and wanted it back quickly, [it was up to us to] tell them… let them know.”


Frazier said communication could have been better, and that he understood why the Planning and Zoning Commission sent the BOCC the letter.


“But it worked out,” he said. “The Freedom Plan that was passed, I think the majority of people in that area are very, very happy with it. They were happy with the results, and that's what matters: the results.”

Moving on

Soisson said although the relationship between the two bodies has been stressed in recent months, he has hopes that it can be repaired moving forward.

“It was unfortunate this happened this way,” he said, “but … we are optimistic we can work with the new Board of Commissioners, and we want them to understand we were upset with the way they handled it — seeing there were so many options — and we are concerned with the working relationship.

“As time goes on we need to be working in unison,” said Soisson, “not against each other. We just felt they took us out of the equation in this case.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun