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Carroll County is on the verge of replacing its nearly 40-year-old zoning code with an update that would rezone certain industrial and commercial districts, and some citizens objected to the proposed changes at public hearings Thursday.

Concerns that the new codes will make it difficult for businesses to expand, will allow medical cannabis facilities to be located near schools and will be difficult for the Board of Zoning Appeals were voiced.

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The Department of Planning has been working with several other county departments to update the county’s zoning since February 2015, according to Planning Director Lynda Eisenberg. Part of the road to approval involves holding public hearings for citizens to offer comments on the proposed change before the Board of Commissioners vote. Eisenberg presented a summary of the changes to the public at hearings held at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the county office building before the Board of Commissioners.

One of the most significant anticipated changes is switching from two commercial districts to three.

Currently, there are two commercial districts — Business General and Business Neighborhood Retail. The new zoning would eliminate those districts and in their place would be Commercial 1, 2, and 3.

Having three districts will allow the county to more appropriately classify commercial entities as low, medium, or high density, Eisenberg said previously. C-1 is for businesses up to 10,000 square feet in size, C-2 is 10,000 to 60,000 square feet, and C-3 is 60,000 square feet and up, according to Eisenberg.

The text amendments also include renaming the two industrial districts, changing the existing Industrial-Restricted district to Industrial Light, or I-1, and changing Industrial-General to Industrial Heavy, or I-2, Eisenberg said at the hearing.

Additionally, the rezoning would create a new employment campus zoning district, update definitions and eliminate obsolete ones, and revise the purposes of districts to reflect the Carroll County Master Plan and Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan, among other changes.

Eisenberg previously noted the rezoning will only affect new development, and any existing facilities will be grandfathered in —however, some residents and attorneys representing them expressed concerns over the limits to future development.

Concerns abound

Melvin Baile Jr., who is chair of the county Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), suggested the proposed rezoning will make life difficult for the zoning board.

About two months ago, the BZA was invited to weigh in on the proposed changes, Baile said at the 1 p.m. hearing.

“I was actually insulted by that because, in my experience with master plan updates and code updates, there’s usually a stake holder group that gets together and identifies the issues that need to be changed," Baile said.

Baile said there are several applicants before the BZA whose projects are currently zoned conditional use, but would be marked as nonconforming if the commissioners approve the update. He specifically mentioned Enterprise Street in Commissioner Ed Rothstein’s fifth district.

“I think there’s a lot of unintended consequences in this document that’s going to make our job at the BZA increasingly difficult," Baile said.

Finch Services Inc., which runs two John Deere dealerships in Carroll, is worried the new zoning will prevent it from selling farm equipment, according to attorney John Maguire.

While the dealerships would be able to continue to sell farm equipment under the new zoning, that would change if the businesses want to expand, Maguire said at the 1 p.m. hearing.

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“It’s an anti-business initiative as it relates to the Finch Services businesses," he said.

Maguire also requested the county rezone a property, also owned by Finch Services, along Md. 31 in Westminster that is currently zoned approximately half industrial and half commercial. Maguire said they’ve been trying to sell it for years unsuccessfully and would have an easier time if the entire 50-some acres was in an industrial district, rather than part of it.

Eldersburg resident Bill MacCormack at the 6 p.m. hearing protested the proposed rezoning of a property adjacent to his.

MacCormack said the new zoning would change the property from Business Neighborhood Retail to C-2, and one of the uses permitted under C-2 is a medical marijuana facility.

“What message does it send to our youth that in a county plagued by an opioid epidemic it’s OK to have medicinal marijuana shops a stone’s throw away from two schools — a high school and an elementary school — and a residential area filled with kids?" MacCormack said.

Two citizens offered comments at the evening hearing and four spoke at the afternoon hearing Thursday.

Eisenberg noted at the start the hearings are for the county officials to hear testimony, and not a question and answer period. Eisenberg was unavailable Friday to answer questions about her response to the citizens’ comments.

The public hearing record will be open for 10 days, and those who did not attend the hearings can send written comments to the Department of Planning, 225 North Center Street, Room 106, Westminster, Maryland, 21157, or email ccplanning@carrollcountymd.gov, or call 410-386-5145.

After the record is closed, the commissioners may vote to adopt the rezoning plan.

The proposed text can be viewed online at carrollcountymd.gov under the Department of Planning page. Click on Carroll County Comprehensive Rezoning and scroll down to the Board of County Commissioners Proposed Text. Several hyperlinks to the documents are available there. An interactive zoning map and place to submit comments are also on the web page. Documents can also be reviewed and copies can be obtained at the Department of Planning.

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