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Petition opposing proposed zoning changes in southern Carroll County garners nearly 1,500 signatures

A petition opposing proposed zoning changes which some county residents believe will lead to irresponsible growth in their community had garnered nearly 1,500 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

Carroll County is looking at potentially developing several significant residential properties, two parcels of which are located at Ridge Road in Marriottsville and are collectively referred to as the Zabel property.

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The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission is discussing a change in zoning on these properties from mostly R-40,000, which allows one home per acre, to R-20,000, allowing two homes per acre instead, doubling the number of new homes allowed to be built in the area.

Included in the proposed zoning change is a 17-acre conservation area, currently zoned to allow one home every 3 acres. A new 11-acre conservation area would be created in a nearby area along a stream.

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Kristen Morinelli, an environmental engineer and resident of the Forest Hills neighborhood, said she has been “fighting with the county for over a year and a half” over the issue.

“We are trying to keep our community the way it feels,” she said. “To those of us who live here, we can’t understand what benefit is going to occur from the rezoning effort … It seems that there will be a negative effect on the quality of life here and a lot of costs that will occur from necessary infrastructure upgrades.”

Morinelli created a petition on change.org specifically addressing opposition to changes to the Zabel property, wanting to provide a way to demonstrate how many people in the community disagree with the move.

She listed several concerns held by those in her neighborhood, with the first being “increased traffic on already extremely busy roadways.”

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“We don’t have sidewalks in our neighborhood,” she said, noting kids will often play in the quiet streets. With an increased traffic flow, she said the roads will not be as safe, for the kids or any other current residents who walk or bike.

She said at least three roadways and three neighborhoods would be impacted by the rezoning.

Another problem created by developing the properties, Morinelli said, is the overcrowding of schools. More houses being built means more families moving in with their kids.

“Without this development our schools are already at or over capacity,” she said.

The local elementary school, Carrolltowne Elementary was expected to be over 100% capacity by 2021 and Oklahoma Road Middle School at 109% by 2024, according to a letter from William Caine, facilities planner for Carroll County Public Schools, addressed to the county’s department of planning. In addition, Freedom Elementary is expected to reach 133% capacity by 2024.

The letter stated the Board of Education has appointed a Freedom Area Redistricting Committee to explore redistricting options to alleviate existing overcrowding at Freedom Elementary but redistricting alone will likely not be enough “to alleviate the projected overcrowding at other elementary and middle schools in the region.”

Tim Passarello, president of the Freedom District Citizens Association, said the group is concerned about development in a number of properties in the Freedom Area, the Zabel property included.

He said it seems the county wants to “change zoning first and look at facilities later,” and pointed out county’s budget will not be able to cover the cost of any capital improvements needed for the development.

The environmental impact and decreased and reassigned designated conservation areas on one parcel of the Zabel property is also a major concern. While the conservation area has been in place for over 43 years, Passerello said any changes to this zoning should be supported by an environmental study.

Carroll County planning director Lynda Eisenberg said Wednesday the county is in the middle of a process to determine the plan implementation of the proposed zoning changes.

She said the Department of Planning has been working with several other county departments to update the county’s zoning for more than five years. Comprehensive rezoning involves updating and changing the zoning code and map to implement the 2014 Carroll County Master Plan and the 2018 Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan.

That Freedom plan features some 26,000 acres set aside to focus on growth and development with two of the larger areas tabbed to help create a good balance with Carroll’s farmland and agricultural areas alongside sections designated for residential properties, businesses and schools.

Freedom is the largest growth area in Carroll that is under county control but it’s those large areas in particular ― the Beatty property along Md. 32, and the Zabel property closer to the Carroll-Howard county border ― with available infrastructure that have FDCA members wary of the county’s rezoning plans.

Eisenberg mentioned the zoning change geared toward the Zabel property will switch the area from low-density residential to medium density residential, which isn’t as “scary as it sounds.”

“Two units per acre is not high-density,” she said, addressing the concern for overcrowded neighborhoods.

As far as the change to the conservation area, she said that portion of land currently zoned Resource Conservation did not have “significant environmental features.”

“Conservation zoning in Carroll County was really developed as a way to protect environmental features before laws and regulations” were put in place to protect land and waterways, she said, adding the zones don’t really add protections to land but rather determine how many homes can be built on an acre.

“The best way to conserve resources is building in growth areas” rather than extending development across other rural land in the county, the director pointed out.

When asked about concerns with current facilities, Eisenberg said at the time the Freedom Plan was created, roads, schools and water and sewer were considered adequate to support the development.

Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said this week “there must be appropriate infrastructure” in place for any changes to occur.

“The county has been in continuous professional dialogue with the community to come up with the best solution … I’m absolutely committed to working with the community and adhering to county ordinances,” he said.

Rothstein mentioned he is aware of the concern about increased traffic, especially on Ridge Road and Marriottsville Road 2.

“People sometimes want roads studies before the development but that’s like putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

“We‘ve got to get this right,” he said, noting he doesn’t want any areas to be overcrowded.

However, with a large amount of farmland, there is “only so much residential property” available in the county and there could be “the opportunity to build really nice communities” in some those areas.

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On June 30, the county’s planning and zoning commission is holding a virtual public comment session to listen to the community’s thoughts on the proposed changes before sending them to the Board of County Commissioners for review.

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Residents can visit carrollcountymd.gov to review the proposed text, submit comments or sign up to speak at the meeting. More information on attending the session will be provided closer to the meeting date.

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