Editorial: Commissioners undo work of planning commission by taking back Freedom Plan

Last week, the Board of County Commissioners voted to take back the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan from the Planning and Zoning Commission, in what board members said was a move to ensure the plan is finished before the terms of Doug Howard and Richard Rothschild, who represent the Freedom area, expire in December.

It is a power in the comprehensive planning process that, until recently, the commissioners did not have.


Statewide legislation passed in 2015 authorized legislative bodies in noncharter government jurisdictions like Carroll the ability to modify the plans themselves and remand master planning documents to the planning commission for specific changes. Previously, county commissioners could only adopt or reject plans, with the latter choice restarting the process.

While we do not know at this time exactly what Howard, Rothschild and the other commissioners might have in mind for the Freedom Plan — although Rothschild told a Times reporter after the decision he expected to have a version of the plan ready within a week — it’s an interesting change of heart for the two outgoing commissioners.

In May of 2015, Howard and Rothschild both expressed skepticism with the legislation in interviews with the Times, citing concerns it may render a lot of hard work by the planning commission moot and politicize the process. At the time, Rothschild said while it would be appropriate for the commissioners to make minor changes to these plans, the bill “went too far.”

“Now it opens up the chance all the public input and work put in by the planning commission is rejected,” Rothschild said. “By going too far, [the bill] will risk further politicizing the plan by opening it up to a second round of review. … Too much latitude renders the planning commission irrelevant.”

Said Howard in 2015, “The planning commission is citizen representation, and you want a lot of power to rest with them.”

Unless, apparently, you don’t like what they’ve come up with. Commissioners Howard and Rothschild have also been clear that they don’t support proposed densities in the plan, although the reason given for taking it back seemed to center around a traffic study at Md. 32 and Bennett Road delaying the process until after their terms end.

The traffic study, the cost of which would’ve been covered by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, would’ve shown how different residential land-use densities for the three major properties would’ve impacted traffic. Traffic has been a concern of many residents of the Freedom area and the study may have provided some useful information. Because the commissioners have taken back the plan, that study won’t happen now.

It’s a shame the commissioners didn’t wait a week to allow for some dialogue between the planning and zoning commission and the board. Instead, the commissioners rushing to take back the plan was “a slap in the face,” as planning commission Chairman Richard Soisson put it.

This Board of County Commissioners passed up the option to modify the Freedom Plan itself last year, when it remanded it to the Planning and Zoning Commission after identifying several issues. The P&Z Commission has addressed those, although perhaps not to the county commissioners’ satisfaction.

This isn’t about a traffic study or the process taking too long. If it were, the commissioners could have simply met with the P&Z commission and encouraged them to speed up the process. This is about Howard and Rothschild ensuring the plan is to their liking.

The good news is, the legislation does call for another public hearing on whatever changes the commissioners may make. The bad news is the timeline is so compressed and these types of plans are often so complex that whatever changes the commissioners make may be rammed through to meet a self-imposed deadline.

Ironically, on their way out the door, Howard and Rothschild are doing exactly what they feared might happen when the legislation passed that empowered them to take these very steps.