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Tensions show as Freedom Plan on land use discussed

Residents of southern Carroll County are feeling uneasy as the community prepares for a review of its plan for land use and development.

More than 100 people attended a public meeting on the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan on Wednesday night to voice their concerns about some of the proposals being considered for the plan.

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The current Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan was approved in 2001. Under the state's Land Use Article of Code, it must be updated every 10 years, along with the county's master plan, which had its most recent update, for 2014, passed in February. The update of the Freedom plan is five years behind schedule, having been held up by turnover in the county Department of Planning, shifted priorities and pushback from the community.

The plan, county Department of Planning staff say, is intended to lay out an outline for future growth management, policies, economic development, facilities and resources.

Many residents who attended the Wednesday meeting — at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center, where the gathering space was filled with a standing-room-only crowd — objected to aspects of the plan being considered that would involve a 118-acre property in the 1700 block of Bennett Road and a number of properties on Obrecht Road, near Md. 97 and White Rock Road.

Currently, the Bennett Road property is largely undeveloped and used agriculturally, though it is zoned for light industrial use. Planning and Zoning Commission member Alec Yeo asked residents at the meeting whether they would, if given the choice, prefer the property to remain industrial or switch to commercial.

Several meeting attendees shouted that they would prefer the land be used for residential purposes, arguing that it would fit best with the surrounding neighborhood.

One woman asked why the property couldn't be kept the way it is and have the county focus development on areas like the former site of a Walmart on Liberty Road.

The plan, Yeo told residents, does not promise that certain businesses will come to the areas being considered. It simply lays out a path for the way the county would like to see development happen, he said.

The job of bringing businesses into these areas, he said, rests with the county Department of Economic Development.

The Bennett Road property, he said, has been zoned for industrial use since the 1970s. The only question is whether it would be better used for industry or commerce, he said.

Although many meeting attendees objected to both industrial or commercial use of the land, the matter comes down to property rights, said Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, who, along with District 2 Republican Commissioner Richard Weaver, attended the meeting.

The owner of the property, Howard said, has rights that cannot be overridden simply because neighbors don't like the current zoning.

Even if all of the meeting attendees decided they wanted the property to be zoned for residential use, the county could not and would not change that land's zoning without the landowner requesting the change, Howard said.

"That is not what property rights are about," he said.

Whether the land remains available for light industrial use — which can include things like small-scale manufacturers, printing shops or heliports — or switches to commercial use, it would not be out of unison with the surrounding area, planning officials said, noting its proximity to shopping centers and businesses.

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"Both areas would be an extension of an existing area," Yeo said.

The Obrecht Road properties are being considered for possible future designation as an employment campus.

That move, said Lynda Eisenberg, chief of the county Bureau of Comprehensive Planning, was spurred by a 2007 study in the county that designated that location as a well-suited space for an employment campus, taking proximity to utilities and major roadways into consideration.

Howard assured residents that the Freedom plan will not be a reiteration of Pathways to Carroll's Future Landscape, which many opposed in 2009.

The current plan, officials said, involves the county trying to ensure that future growth occurs in a managed and efficient way.

Whatever plan is adopted, Eisenberg said, it will not prevent landowners from continuing to use their land the way they've been using it. It simply opens the door for other uses in the future.

Eisenberg said she was happy to see such a large turnout at Wednesday's meeting.

The planning commission has held a number of open meetings on the matter, but some residents told planning officials at a Wednesday night community meeting on the plan that they hadn't known about a review until just days, or even hours, before the meeting.

Diana Eignor, who said she lives on White Rock Road in Sykesville, learned of the meeting on Facebook.

She, like many others, said she was concerned about what seemed like the county trying to bring industrial and commercial development onto rural or residential land.

Renee Kolb, a resident of Carnies Lane, said she was also concerned about what the change in land-use designation could mean for the continuity of her neighborhood.

"I don't really see how it fits in that residential area," she said.

Eisenberg encouraged anyone with concerns to contact the planning commission. None of what was discussed on Wednesday, she said, is part of any officially approved plan at this point.

"We are still in plan development," she said. "We are far, far away from this plan being adopted."

410-857-3315

Twitter.com/heatherleighnor

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