Although open space in residential subdivisions generally is well-used and maintained, the County Commissioners said yesterday they may develop a policy to ensure that recreational space best serves the needs of communities.
A county Planning Department study of 20 Carroll subdivisions found that residents enjoy open space, which often is used as a tot lot, ball field, picnic area, nature trail, tennis or basketball court.
"In almost all instances, the open space worked very well," Planner Gregg S. Horner told the commissioners.
The study was conducted in 1993, at the request of the previous Board of Commissioners and the county Planning Commission, he said. The goal was to determine whether open space areas were functioning satisfactorily.
"Should we even have them? Were they more of a headache?" Acting Planning Director K. Marlene Conaway said.
Developers building in a planned-unit development or residential and conservation cluster areas are required to set aside land for open space.
The county does not have a policy that requires specific uses for open space, she said.
"The policy needs to be geared toward the character of the community," Mr. Horner said.
The commissioners agreed to meet with the Planning Commission, which already has reviewed the study, to discuss the issue.
Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said a policy should look at what the larger community needs, in addition to what the homeowner association wants.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the county should not acquire too many subdivision open space parcels. In the past, some homeowner associations have turned their parcels over to the county, which means the county must provide maintenance.
"How much maintenance should we take on?" he asked.
The county does not have a policy regarding when it will agree to take land; decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, Mr. Horner said.
Planners examined four factors in the study -- use, maintenance, design and perceived quality of the open space.
They studied subdivisions in the county, not in municipalities, and conducted a telephone survey of residents that achieved a 41 percent response rate.
Multipurpose fields are the most popular type of open space, Mr. Horner said. Residents in some subdivisions take turns cutting the grass, he said.
Maintenance problems have occurred in older subdivisions that did not have formal homeowner associations and did not have specific plans for the space, he said.
The planners made 10 recommendations for designing and creating open space in subdivisions, including:
* Subdivisions of 50 homes or fewer should not be required to put in extensive improvements such as basketball or tennis courts or other facilities that require extensive maintenance.
* Builders could be allowed to pay a fee-in-lieu of developing open space so that homeowners could build what they wanted.
* Improvements built by developers should be bonded and inspected by the county.
* Open space should be close to as many homes in the subdivision as possible.
* Access to the space should be clearly marked.
* Tot lots, which are well-used in most areas, should be provided where appropriate.
* The space should be large enough to allow for a variety of activities.