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Planning commission gives unfavorable recommendation to rezoning 100-acre Mount Airy parcel for business park

A high-voltage power line runs through a section of the 250-acre Harrison-Leishear property that is proposed for annexation by the town of Mount Airy.
A high-voltage power line runs through a section of the 250-acre Harrison-Leishear property that is proposed for annexation by the town of Mount Airy. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

After many complaints from nearby residents, Carroll County’s Planning and Zoning Commission gave an unfavorable recommendation to the Board of Commissioners about rezoning more than 100 acres of Mount Airy land for an employment campus.

The 102.5-acre parcel (referred to as Colburn/Hulver/Bay) runs along the north border of the potential 258-acre Harrison-Leishear property that the town is considering annexing for a 128-acre employment campus, 85 acres parkland for future development and 45 acres reserved for future development. The Colburn/Hulver/Bay land, listed at 6503 Ridge Road, runs along the east side of Md. 27 and is just south of Falling Green Way.

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A zoning assessment report said it would be consistent with the 2014 Carroll County Master Plan in terms of increasing the non-residential tax base and encouraging “large-scale commercial and employment developments.” The master plan defines employment campus as “an area for business activities in a campus like setting to attract employers of highly skilled workers and primarily higher paying jobs.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission heard nearly a half-hour of complaints about the potential Colburn/Hulver/Bay rezoning before voting Sept. 30 to give it an unfavorable recommendation to the county commissioners. Its provisional recommendation had been favorable prior to the meeting. The county commissioners will hold a planning work session discussing comprehensive rezoning on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

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Several residents spoke at the Sept. 30 meeting.

“I’d like my town to stay small like when I moved here,” said Brandon Rakes, who has lived in Mount Airy for 20 years and lives near the Colburn/Hulver/Bay property. “I’m concerned about what they’re doing with the Harrison-Leishear property, which is 250 acres. Do we need another 100 acres developed? I don’t think so.”

Like many others, Rakes cited concerns about traffic, which he said has already made pulling out of his neighborhood difficult. He wasn’t expecting the land, currently marked for conservation, to be rezoned. He also is concerned about the potential impact on property value, crime and wildlife, as well as light pollution, he said.

Members of the Mount Airy Town Council and planning commission have expressed concerns about how the Colburn/Hulver/Bay project could affect support for annexing the Harrison-Leishear property, as well as on infrastructure, access and future wells needed, according to a presentation given by Carroll County Department of Planning Director Lynda Eisenberg at the meeting. John Breeding, Mount Airy community planning administrator, urged the commission to hold off on the Harrison-Leishear property decision before acting on the Colburn/Hulver/Bay project, according to the presentation.

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Other residents at the meeting expressed concerns about the impact of a potential Colburn/Hulver/Bay office campus.

“I don’t think any residents in Carroll County want employment campuses outside their homes,” said nearby resident Diane Perney at the meeting. “How can we keep getting rid of conservation land? I understand the need for a tax base. Raise my taxes. I moved to Carroll County because I like the county and the atmosphere in the county.

"I don’t want to become Germantown. ... If I wanted that, I would move there.”

Sara Hipp, a 10-year resident of Mount Airy, said she also opposed the rezoning, as do many residents on her street.

“[I’m concerned] that the awesome town we live in will be changed forever,” she said. “Mount Airy is very special and very different than any other town in Maryland. ... I along with many other families ... have moved here to get away from our jobs, the hustle and bustle of traffic and lights and overcrowding.”

Several people, including Hipp, felt there wasn’t adequate public notice given to residents, as Hipp said she only found out about it while looking into the potential Harrison-Leishear rezoning.

Residents have lodged similar complaints about the Harrison-Leishear rezoning, which they fear could bring light and noise pollution, along with more traffic.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, told The Times that he is in favor of the Harrison-Leishear rezoning.

Bouchat said he thinks it would take pressure off the residential tax base, however said he is looking to create a compromise in a potential rezoning to protect water supplies, as some residents are concerned that the development could run their wells dry. Some have also voiced concerns about traffic, he said.

“I want to make sure the [Industrial Development Authority] takes care of our citizens and doesn’t diminish their property values or quality of life,” Bouchat said. “They have very strong legitimate concerns.”

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