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Sale of rural land to be discussed


Carroll County's planning commission is scheduled to hear citizens' opinions tomorrow on a rules change that could increase the number of new houses by the sides of rural roads, although no one knows by how many.

The proposed amendment to county subdivision regulations would allow owners of land split by roads that the county maintains, but doesn't own outright, to sell acreage on one side of the road without deducting the sale from their off-conveyances. County law allows landowners to off-convey, or sell, two lots per parcel of land without going through the subdivision process.

Owners of farms on older county roads are expected to be the main beneficiaries of the change.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Room 300A of the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

"We'd like this to be clean and fair and simple. If it's fair and simple, there's less need for professional assistance," said Westminster attorney Charles D. Hollman, spokesman for a group of lawyers and surveyors who drafted the amendment. "You shouldn't have to have a development lawyer and engineer to give your child a lot."

No one involved is entirely happy with the proposed change, "which may be the sign of a good compromise," Mr. Hollman said.

He declined to identify group members who drew up the language because, he said, they have publicity-shy clients who do not want to see their attorneys' and surveyors' names in print.

The planning commission unanimously approved the amendment at its January meeting, clearing it for the public hearing, possible revisions and submission to the county commissioners, who will decide whether to adopt the proposed rule.

The affected land goes by the unlikely name of "hangover parcel." The name stems from the land "hanging over" one side of the road, said K. Marlene Conaway, assistant county planning director.

No one knows how many people in Carroll have hangover parcels. Mr. Hollman and Robert H. Lennon, a planning commission member and real estate lawyer, say it's only a handful.

County Planning Director Edmund R. Cueman said he doesn't have an estimate of the number of such parcels. "They're out there. That's all we can say," he said.

The one-page amendment to the rules on hangover parcels is couched in 65-word sentences filled with phrases and clauses that baffle even county planning experts. Mr. Cueman said the precise meaning is hard to decipher.

"I'm at a disadvantage because that is not the language we had drafted," Mr. Cueman said. "It's language that has been introduced to the [planning] commission."

Mr. Hollman said the amendment could be read as giving farmers the right to sell or give away a lot in addition to the two standard off-conveyances. Landowners with sufficient acreage to meet lot size regulations are allowed, by county law, to sell two lots without going through the subdivision process.

But Mr. Hollman pointed out, it's not a new right. Owners of land split by roads that the county maintains but does not own were able before 1989 to sell the hangover parcel and still be eligible to take two off-conveyances on the other side.

Mr. Cueman explained that before 1988, off-conveyances were unregulated. The county didn't enforce requirements for safe-sight distance from driveways onto roads and didn't seek rights of way for future road widening.

"You went to an attorney who did a property description and didn't have to so much as check in with the county," the planning director said.

Carroll revised its rules in 1989 to require reviews of off-conveyances. The county attorney's office then issued an vTC opinion that said that if a landowner sold acreage on one side of the road, it counted as one off-conveyance, leaving him just one.

Local lawyers, surveyors and county staff members have been wrestling with the issue for several years. One side has argued for restoration of the pre-1989 custom, and the other has sought ways to protect the public against future problems stemming from unregulated lot sales.

Mr. Hollman said the lawyers and surveyors objected to an earlier county staff proposal not to call the hangover parcel sale an off-conveyance, but to regulate it as if it were one. That would have meant dedicating a 30-foot right of way for future road widening, getting a sight-distance certification and being barred from subdividing the parcel for five years, he said.

Mr. Hollman and Mr. Lennon explain the compromise language this way: If a hangover parcel is too small or otherwise ineligible to be subdivided, it will be subject to applicable off-conveyance regulations. If it is eligible for further subdivision, it is not subject to applicable off-conveyance regulations, but the buyer doesn't get any off-conveyance rights with the land unless the seller expressly gives him those rights. And, the owner can sell a hangover parcel without losing the off-conveyances to which he is entitled.

Mr. Lennon said the proposed change increases the value of a qualifying farmer's property because the hangover parcel will be valued as a lot by lending institutions, giving it a higher value as collateral than farm land. Even if a farmer doesn't sell a hangover parcel, "The fact that it can be done allows them to get more loans," he said.

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