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Blueprint sought for southwest Carroll Session brainstorms goals for development


WESTMINSTER -- Planners have inventoried southwest Carroll's roads, housing, farms, commerce, natural resources and vistas -- to see what is. Now they're trying to envision what could be.

The County Department of Planning led a brainstorming session Wednesday to generate ideas that could guide development in a 50-square-mile area of the county for decades.

Officials from county environmental, recreation, health and public works agencies participated in the study of the area, which is bounded by routes 26 and 97 and the Howard and Frederick county borders. The region, with a population of about 11,000, does not include Mount Airy.

The planning office is working on recommendations for zoning changes for the region that could allow varied development and create more need for public facilities.

A citizens committee is working with planners to develop goals and to determine whether zoning changes should be made. Planners intend to present the findings to the County Planning and Zoning Commission in July and final recommendations to the county commissioners by year's end.

Planners have documented conditions for the rapidly growing region that is home to many Washington-bound commuters. They don't like all they found.

Tours of the region revealed more agricultural land is being converted to subdivisions, a trend that is expected to continue as plans for housing in conservation zones move through the review process. Most new development takes the form of large lots and large, expensive houses that are scattered throughout farm fields and interfere with scenic views.

"It's being put in the worst place, as far as I'm concerned," said Marlene Conaway, assistant planning director. "We're losing a sense of countryside."

The median price of a home in the region is $148,900 -- the highest in Carroll -- according to the 1990 census, said planner Gregg Horner. Several new developments featuring homes costing $400,000 or more are planned.

Community centers -- mostly at major crossroads -- have been virtually abandoned as commerce areas and lack a "village" atmosphere. Many residents who commute long distances to jobs don't feel community ties, several officials have observed. Only five dairy farms remain in what was once a productive farming region. Drilling for water in farm fields has become a "major crop" in the area recognized for its water problems, Conaway quipped.

The group developed a list of potential goals -- a "wish list" -- they believed could improve the region. Those include:

* Zoning more land for commercial, industrial and office park use to create more jobs.

* Developing the community centers, such as Winfield and Pickett's Corner, as places of commerce and more intense residential development, possibly creating a new town center.

* Clustering homes to preserve open space.

* Encouraging a greater range of housing types and prices through zoning changes. "This area is zoned to be exclusionary," said Horner.

* Creating a network of parks, trails and greenways, or undeveloped, connected corridors.

* Improving the transportation network by building new connecting roads and upgrading existing highways, such as Route 97.

* Preserving resources, including watersheds and forests.

Planners say it is undetermined whether the region will be targeted for more population growth than now possible under current zoning and development plans. Zoning changes could lead to increased housing densities, or could simply redistribute population growth.

Future growth in the region hinges largely on whether public water and sewer systems can be established. The region has a limited supply of ground water, and plans for a reservoir have been stalled. A consultant will be hired shortly to study the feasibility of public systems.

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