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Dell Defends High Ridge Condemnation


Recently there has been considerable publicity relative to the condemnation case initiated by the Board of County Commissioners against the High Ridge Association near Gamber.

On Feb. 4, Commissioner Elmer Lippy aired a response on cable TV to Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.'s decision on the High Ridge Drive case. I do not normally respond to remarks made or printed in the news media. When issues are presented by a government official which represent an opposing point of view, then I respectfully feel a need to express my position.

In all of my decisions, let me assure you that my guiding principles are motivated by what I believe to be honesty and fairness to all. In the case of High Ridge, the commissioners differed on the proper approach to the problem at issue. Along with Commissioner Julia Gouge, I felt that the only fair and reasonable solution was to extend the existing public road a distance of 15 feet to the property to be developed. Commissioner Lippy differed with our decision.

I have been severely criticized and have been accused of making this decision as a political favor to a well-known friend. Nothing could be further from the truth. My decision in this matter would have been the same if the owner had been John Doe instead of Aaron Green, whom I never met until the issue was presented to the commissioners.

The issue here was a matter of access to the proposed 13 new dwellings that have been approved for some time by the planning board to be built on the property adjacent to High Ridge Drive and the boundary line of the property to be developed by Mr. Green. High Ridge Drive is a public road, owned and maintained by the county, but the 15-foot strip of land between the end of the pavement on High Ridge Drive and the boundary line of the Green property has been part of an existing right-of-way for many years. At the condemnation proceedings, Edmund Cueman, the director of planning and zoning, and Ron Bailey, his former assistant, both agreed that High Ridge Drive was designed to extend to the Green property and that the county envisioned that when residential lots were carved out of the Green farm that these lots would utilize High Ridge Drive for access to the homes. To settle the issue peacefully we offered to buy the land in dispute. This offer was refused.

We had a choice to make. Either the developer could sue the county or construct a costly half-mile road over hostile terrain to be maintained in perpetuity by the taxpayers, increasing the cost of houses to consumers, or the county could take title to the 15-foot strip of land in question and open up High Ridge Drive for public use as the sensible access to the 13 new homes to be built on the adjacent property. We made the decision to confront the intransigence of the owners of High Ridge Association by a condemnation suit to take title to the 15 feet of land titled to High Ridge Association and used to block access to the adjoining property. Commissioner Lippy, for reasons best known to him, refused to join us in this decision. . . .

As explained by the county planners, the need to use High Ridge Drive is necessary to fulfill Carroll County's master plan. . . .

An alternative route is to extend Nottingham Road to the proposed 13-home development. This involves extending another street in the same High Ridge subdivision. It is not practical because that route would necessarily go through unbuildable wetlands, woodlands, rock outcropping and would create a new street approximately one-half mile longer in the same area where the county already owns and maintains a public street, namely High Ridge Drive. . . .

The court found no support for the arguments presented by the defendant's attorneys in their effort to establish that our case was not a matter of public use and concluded that in as much as the extended High Ridge Drive will be open to the public, that the proposed use is a public use and that, therefore, our proceedings were proper. We were also pleased to note that in the title disputes in their case, the court stated that it found nothing in the decision itself or in the decision-making process that is so oppressive, arbitrary or unreasonable as to suggest bad faith.

The court, therefore, decided the case in favor of the plaintiffs, the Carroll County Commissioners. . . .

Commissioner Lippy in his public comments labeled the whole affair as repugnant. We agree -- all condemnation procedures are repugnant. We continue with our work with malice toward none. Should the High Ridge Association decide to appeal this decision and in the unlikely event win a reversal in this case, I too will accept it with malice toward none.

I simply have tried to explain what was done and why it was done. I will continue to make decisions based upon what I believe is right rather than bowing to political expediency.

Donald I. Dell


The writer is president of the Carroll County Commissioners.

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