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Westminster area residents against rezoning along Reese Road, question Carroll County government’s efforts

Andy Dodge was flipping through television channels late one August night when he happened to come across a rerun of a county planning and zoning meeting. What he heard made his blood boil, and soon after, he started knocking on neighbors' doors to spread the word.

Dodge is one of many Westminster area residents who reached out to the Times to voice their opposition to Carroll County Government’s proposed rezoning. The county is undergoing a comprehensive rezoning that, at the moment, is focused on by-request rezoning applications from property owners. This portion of rezoning could affect 29 properties across more than 600 acres.

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Residents who live near Reese Road are particularly concerned about proposals to rezone approximately 78 acres from agriculture to industrial heavy and to rezone about 135 acres from agriculture/conservation to industrial light.

While county staff say they’ve gone to great lengths to make the public aware of this possible change to the community, some residents feel they were left in the dark.

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Dodge said he has lived in the area since 1984 and has grown accustomed to a quiet life in a rural neighborhood on Lavinda Drive, off of Reese Road. When he saw a replay of the July 21 planning and zoning commission meeting on TV, he was shocked to learn his way of life may be at risk. Dodge realized the properties up for discussion were next door and down the street.

“My blood just boiled," Dodge said.

Worried his neighbors were also uninformed, Dodge started knocking on doors. Over 10 days he estimates he visited 35 to 40 homes trying to raise awareness. Some people didn’t answer, but those who did, listened, Dodge said. They presented an air of, You’ve got to be kidding me, when he told them the news. Since then, residents — some of them Dodge’s neighbors — started calling in to the virtual planning commission meetings to voice their discontent.

Shonda Cain lives on Nadines Court, off of Reese Road. Her family was drawn to the area a year ago as the perfect, quiet place to raise children. Cain describes her neighborhood as tranquil, serene and community oriented. She expected to live out her days there, but now has doubts. Their property adjoins land that could be rezoned industrial, and Cain said she complained to the planning and zoning commission about not being notified.

“This is our forever home and we had no intentions of moving," Cain wrote in an email. "However, my husband and I are gravely troubled by the proposed rezoning of this community and neighborhood. The proposed rezoning will have drastic negative impacts on all of the reasons for which we made the decision to move to this community.”

She watched the July 21 planning and zoning meeting and was left feeling like the members gave a “cursory review.” Cain doubts whether what county officials see on a map gives an accurate representation of the lay of the land.

Jill Popowich, a Reese Road resident, is also against the proposed rezoning. She acknowledged a reason for the rezoning is to implement the 2014 Carroll County Master Plan for future development. Popowich was unaware of the master plan when it was under review and now wonders whether she would have had a better chance of preventing rezoning then.

“I feel certain I would have raised a flag then had I known about it same as I did when that first postcard hit my mailbox about the rezoning," Popowich wrote in an email.

Now that she’s in the loop, she worries not all residents will understand the proposals as the county has presented them.

Each property up for rezoning is identified by a series of letters and numbers. Planning and zoning commission discussions frequently involve terms someone tuning in for the first time might not understand.

“I work in a related industry and certainly know what these things mean and how they impact development. The average person will not know what master plan and rezoning is, what it means or even to look for it by stalking their county’s website,” Popowich wrote.

Richard Dreer has a farm on Reese Road that adjoins land slated to be rezoned industrial. While he is concerned about potential impact to traffic, noise, lighting and property value, Dreer, in an email, spoke specifically to environmental factors. The north branch of the Patapsco River runs through the Carrollton community, near Reese Road, and he said the residential area is prone to flooding.

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“If the county ignores this concern and goes ahead with [further] development of this area they are essentially putting the lives of residents at great risk. I think any politician voting to proceed with this should be held personally responsible for the lives of these people. Did we learn nothing from the Ellicott City disaster?” Dreer wrote.

Public outreach

In an effort to notify residents of the proposed rezoning, county staff have advertised in the Carroll County Times, sent email blasts, used social media, posted to the county website, mailed more than 400 letters to adjoining property owners/interested parties and placed signs on the properties, according to Lynda Eisenberg, director of planning.

At a recent Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, acknowledged the system is not perfect, but the county is trying.

“There’ll still be somebody out there that’ll say, ‘I never saw this happening,’” Rothstein said Oct. 13. “We just have to accept it, but you know, this effort was very deliberate and very resource intense in moving forward.”

Dodge learned from hitting the pavement just how many of his neighbors were uninformed, despite the county’s notification process.

“In my opinion, it’s totally broken," Dodge said in an interview.

He would have liked to see signs posted right away on properties that could be rezoned. All adjoining property owners, and those who live in the neighborhood but don’t have adjoining property lines, should get letters well before an upcoming rezoning meeting, Dodge suggested.

Eisenberg said at the commissioners meeting the first wave of letters sent out was an initial outreach. The county is following up with postcards to inform residents of upcoming public meetings, she said.

Despite residents' criticisms of the county’s transparency, Carroll County Government is actually not legally required to be so open.

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“We are not obligated under state law to do any of this,” Eisenberg said of the county’s outreach efforts. “The only thing that we are required to do is post an advertisement in a paper of general circulation that the local body would receive. ... However, we are going well above and beyond that because it’s the right thing to do. We want to make sure that the community knows what’s happening."

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County staff and the planning and zoning commission have already made their recommendations on rezoning. Now, it’s up to the county commissioners to decide. Before they take a vote there will be several public meetings to discuss rezoning.

A “listening session” with the commissioners will be held Oct. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m., then there will be three work sessions, starting at 9 a.m., on Nov. 3, 10 and 24. A public hearing is planned for Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. These meetings will be held virtually, and those who wish to call in to comment are asked to sign up on the county website. Information about the rezoning proposals can be found online at carrollrezoning.org.

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