Preventing Sprawl In The Southwest County


The draft of the Southwest Carroll Plan has been the subject of much discussion over the last few months. As a life-long resident of the area and a professional planner who is working on the plan, I would like to share my perspective:

I was born and raised in Carroll County on a 150-acre dairy farm on Buckhorn Road. There were only nine families living on the road at that time. Everyone knew each other, and most of the adult women were called "Aunt" or "Miss," followed by their first name. It was a very rural area. My friends at school used to tease me that, "I lived so far back that they had to pipe the sunshine in." No one had any money to speak of, and most families had at least one member who commuted to the Baltimore or Washington areas to work. My father started commuting when we kids started school, while mom stayed home and ran the dairy farm. There were no traffic problems, and when the cows got out, the neighbors helped put them in.

There are now more than 100 homes lining Buckhorn Road and several connected subdivision streets. I am sorry to say that I know few of my neighbors, although the ones I have met are fine people. Many families have children who travel by school buses to the Winfield and Mt. Airy area schools. There are now often two adults per family working outside the county, contributing to the traffic on Buckhorn Road and connecting commuter routes. Having been raised in what to me was a real farm community, I would have to say that we are now more "suburban" than agricultural. While we still have open spaces behind the "development," there is only one dairy farm remaining in the immediate vicinity. One of my Buckhorn neighbors recently told me he only wanted "people like us" moving into Carroll County. On reflection, I am sure what he meant by "us" was those who could afford a $200,000 house on a three-acre lot. . . .

The changes on Buckhorn Road have been reflected throughout southwest Carroll. What was once a rural farming community, with many family-run farms, has changed in many areas into an area with sprawling large-lot subdivisions. The few remaining farmers move their equipment throughout the area to cultivate the remaining open land. The conflicts these farmers are experiencing with the non-farm community is one that has been documented in many areas around the nation. Southwest Carroll, because of its location and residential subdivision activity approved in the '70s prior to adoption of the 1978 Agriculture Zone and a large percentage of three-acre lot conservation zoned land, currently has a higher percentage of housing lots to land area than most other agricultural areas in the county; one house for each eight acres of land in the area west of Route 97 and south of Route 26, excluding Mt. Airy.

Imagine how different it would have been if instead of sprawling most of the new houses across the farmland from 1970 to the present, they had been clustered in an area of about 1,000 acres. Consider if this town had been designed similar to one of Carroll County's traditional towns, such as Westminster, and LTC contained a population of about half that of existing Eldersburg, leaving about 23,000 acres of land available in southwest Carroll for continued farms. There would be the same number of homes, but conflicts with agriculture would be reduced because new homes would not be sprawled throughout the farmland. A town such as this was one of the options explored in the Southwest Carroll Plan draft as an area to accommodate a portion of Carroll County's future residential development.

At build-out in southwest Carroll, under existing zoning, there is a potential for 2,000 additional households. When added to the existing houses, this will equal nearly one house for every 4 1/2 acres. Countywide in the Agricultural District, potential build-out will be lower, developing at a rate of approximately one house for every 15 acres. These houses will be sprinkled throughout the Agricultural District; a subdivision on almost every farm. How will agriculture and the rural setting or atmosphere be impacted by this influx of houses? What shall we do to provide for a land base where agriculture can survive and not see it fade as it has in the southern end of the county? With what would we replace a $100 million agribusiness industry?

These and other concerns were voiced by the Future of Agriculture subcommittee in 1990 and further considered by the Southwest Carroll Citizens' Advisory Committee. The Planning Commission is now continuing the discussion.

What is the future for Carroll County? Will there continue to be a strong, viable agricultural base? Will housing be built where public facilities can be provided? Or will most all of Carroll County reaffirm and strengthen its commitment to supporting and preserving agriculture for the future by using all possible means?

Everyone in Carroll County needs to consider these serious questions. The decisions that are made now are a part of everyone's future.

K. Marlene Conaway


The writer is assistant director of the Carroll County Department of Planning.

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