Feeling as though Carroll County Government failed to effectively communicate proposed zoning changes, nearly two-dozen residents hammered county officials with questions and complaints in a recent public meeting.
Carroll County Government has been in the process of overhauling its zoning code since 2015. The planning and zoning commission met Wednesday, Sept. 2 to consider requests by property owners to rezone their land as part of the county’s master plan for future growth. The requests voted upon were for properties seeking to become zoned commercial, industrial, or employment campus.
The commission, consisting of seven members and ex-officio member Commissioner Ed Rothstein, makes recommendations to the Board of Commissioners, which then votes on zoning changes. As an ex-officio member, Rothstein does not vote in planning and zoning meetings but will have a vote when the Board of Commissioners meet.
Nearly two dozen residents called into the commission’s virtual meeting Wednesday night, which lasted well over three hours. A number of those who names could be heard clearly said they lived on or near Reese Road, south of Westminster. The county is considering rezoning about 135 acres off of Reese Road, on either side of the railroad tracks, from agricultural and conservation to industrial light (I-1), according to a presentation by Lynda Eisenberg, director of planning.
Part of the property is accessed by Reese Road, which many callers described as a windy, country road that would not be suited to increased traffic brought about by new development. Residents said they had no idea this industrial rezoning was being proposed until recently, when a neighbor learned of it and informed the rest of the community.
Many of the concerns voiced were over the potential threat to residents’ way of life. More than one person described the area as a quiet, peaceful community nestled in nature.
Combat veteran James Martin didn’t get to speak.
The beginning of the public comment period was delayed by logistical trouble. People calling on their cell phones to the virtual meeting were displayed as names like Caller 21, but residents did not know to which number they were assigned. Martin tried to talk, but his line was muted. Another man said his wife was trying to speak but her line was muted, too.
Martin is a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who lives off of Reese Road. He said, in an interview, he moved to the area because the quiet community was good for his stress. Martin fears his PTSD will be triggered if the nearby property becomes zoned industrial and is developed.
“It’s amazing, beautiful. … You can sit on your back porch and drink coffee,” Martin said, but if there is rezoning, “It’s just going to ruin this area.”
Although Martin didn’t speak at the meeting, he listened for about two hours.
“I kind of feel like our voices fell on deaf ears,” Martin said.
Carroll County Breaking News
The commission did, however, vote 5-0 to make an unfavorable recommendation to the Board of Commissioners regarding the request to rezone the 135-acre property by the railroad tracks. Chairperson Cynthia Cheatwood and Eugene Canale were temporarily absent when the vote took place. The remaining properties voted on that evening received favorable recommendations.
Residents weren’t only calling to push against rezoning recommendations. They criticized county officials, saying they did not make enough of an effort to inform residents of potential rezoning. Eisenberg said the county issued press releases, mailed letters, sent email blasts and posted about upcoming meetings online.
The emails are hardly helpful, resident Andy Dodge said. Properties and zoning classifications are referred to by a series of letters and numbers that he said require research to understand what they mean. For example, the 135-acre property by the railroad tracks many residents called about was referred to on the meeting agenda as K&P Resource Recovery, LLC I1-04-2020-0008.
Some residents said they never got letters and others complained that they received letters later than they would have liked. Public comment grew tense at times, with some residents talking over county officials or trying to start a back-and-forth conversation. Residents alleged the county already made up its mind to rezone properties, though Eisenberg, Rothstein and Vice Chair Daniel Hoff asserted no decisions have been made.
“We try to reach people the best we can,” Eisenberg said at the meeting’s close. “I think the fact that we did receive almost 40 comments for the 10 or so properties this evening and had such robust conversation for over three hours is an actual testament to the outreach that we did have getting notice out for people to participate in the process.”
Planning and zoning meetings are open to the public but are being held virtually due to the pandemic. Videos can be watched live or viewed later through the county’s online meeting portal. Videos are also posted to the county’s YouTube channel. Residents can sign up for email alerts for comprehensive rezoning or other county news online. Comprehensive rezoning also has its own page on the county website under the planning department.
The planning and zoning commission is scheduled to meet Sept. 15, Sept. 30 and Oct. 7 to discuss rezoning. In an effort to have a more organized public comment period in the future, the county is asking residents to sign up online in advance so they can be called by name.