Since the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan was adopted on Oct. 10, 2018, numerous opportunities for the county to keep the lines of communication with citizens open were presented.
Citizens were denied their due process when the county planning department failed to notify adjoining property owners of important upcoming meetings regarding rezoning of three hotly contested properties, Beatty, Zabel and Ridge Road. Adjoining property owners were either notified an average of 28 days late in an undated letter from the planning department or were not notified at all.
Procedural due process in zoning requires a minimum standard of fairness during public decisions that impact private rights. Relevant standards include proper public notice, reasonable and impartial standards in decision-making, and the availability to access public records. Substantive due process also factors in zoning and requires that regulations have a rational basis for adoption and are reasonably related to health, safety and welfare of the citizens. It protects private citizens against capricious and inconsistent public decisions. According to an email from Director of Planning Lynda Eisenberg, “there is no County or planning policy for comprehensive rezoning notifications.” This is an example of failure to follow procedural due process and must be addressed.
South Carroll is in a tenuous position caused by rapid and poorly planned development and now the county expects citizens to pay for their missteps with decreasing home values, increasingly crowded roads, additional light and noise pollution and higher taxes for the entire county. Our current process uses ongoing zoning map changes where individual property owners are the impetus for initiating and requesting changes in zoning — not the county. This is piecemeal rezoning.
Allowing such individual requests blurs the distinct lines between comprehensive rezoning, a legislative process initiated by the County that involves many properties and where the Maryland “change-mistake rule” does not apply, and the right of a property owner to petition for piecemeal rezoning on their property which involves a quasi-judicial proceeding before the county commissioners. From 1965 to 2014 Carroll countians were shown a complete comprehensive plan with all accompanying zoning maps and related text amendments on the table at the same time for them to pursue prior to public hearings. Citizens' input and participation was invited and meetings where held, ones in which citizens' input wasn’t dismissed, or where it was suggested they be denied the opportunity to speak more than once because “they’ve already been heard”, where comments were taken into consideration and the plan was forwarded to county commissioners who as the legislative body, make the final decisions on comprehensive plans and zoning. The procedure described above and as prescribed by the State Planning and Zoning enabling law was employed for almost fifty years in Carroll County. This is the true implementation of comprehensive planning and zoning and what we should aspire to return to.
Over two years have passed and yet the most important Priority Implementation Steps in the 2018 Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan are still unfinished. The first and most important was the commissioner-issued mandate that our grossly out of date zoning codes be updated “within 18 months of adoption of this plan” — in other words, April 2020. This update was the highest priority and should have been at or near completion and any attempt to blame the current pandemic for the delay is disingenuous.
The county must come to the realization that its insistence to rezone using 2020 models, methods and ideals with zoning codes from the 1960s has created a disjointed fabric within our community. A prime example is Snowden Creek, a three-story apartment complex that towers over its long established neighbors of single family ranch homes. The second Implementation Step was for a county and citizens collaborative community focus group (of which I was a member) to be formed. One was created in 2018 and met twice to review planning concepts. After months of no communication from the county planning department, the committee was abruptly disbanded with no explanation. Luckily citizens took it upon themselves to form The Freedom District Citizens Association (FDCA) so we still have a voice.
Our hope is the commissioners who are term limited as well as those with higher aspirations will take into consideration the gravity of their legacies and vote against industrial and commercial rezoning inside residential neighborhoods and unsustainable development throughout the Freedom Area. All citizens of Carroll County will be affected by your decisions for many decades to come. Our expectation is that our elected officials will abide by the recommendations set in the plan they adopted and vote accordingly to ensure Carroll remains a great place to live, work and play.
Kimberly Madeja writes from Eldersburg.