Judge rejects proposal for Belt Farm rezoning


A Carroll judge has ruled against a Howard County developer's proposal to have 205 acres near Liberty and Linton roads in Eldersburg rezoned.

Rezoning would have allowed Carroll Development Associates to build about 200 houses, nearly double the number originally approved for the Belt Farm property.

In an opinion issued last week, Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. denied the developers' petition. The developer has 30 days to appeal to the Court of Special Appeals.

"Obviously, my client is disappointed and we are discussing options," said John Maguire, attorney for the developer.

Neighbors of the proposed subdivision are elated, said Barry M. Marsh, president of the Linton Springs Homeowners Association, which has opposed the increased density through two years of hearings and compromises.

"We asked for a level playing field, and we got it in Circuit Court," Mr. Marsh said. "We felt certain we would win out. All we are asking for is responsible development."

The county commissioners and the county Planning Commission had opposed the rezoning.

"The court has reviewed the transcripts of the hearing before the commissioners and the attached exhibits," Judge Beck wrote. "The court finds that the issue was fairly debatable before the board and therefore, affirms the Commissioners' decision to deny the rezoning."

Mr. Marsh said he appreciated Judge Beck's "thorough review of transcripts and factual information." He plans to circulate a letter detailing the decision to the more than 200 association members and will offerto meet with the developer, he said.

"Let's go back to the drawing board," he said. "We are reasonable people. We want to see the land developed as it is zoned and not overburden the existing infrastructure."

Carroll Development Associates originally planned about 90 houses with private water and sewer service. Two years ago, the county included Belt Farm in its five-year plan for public water and sewer service, a move that the developer said added as much as $2 million to his costs.

To win its case, the company, based in Ellicott City, would have had to prove a mistake in the original zoning or a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood.

"The only thing which changed was the profit ratio for the developer, and that is not grounds for rezoning," said Michelle Ostrander, attorney for the homeowners association.

The judge found neither a mistake nor a change. "There is a very stringent standard for the finding of a mistake which would justify rezoning," he wrote.

He cited several cases to support his decision and the planners' intent to protect a watershed area.

Several streams that feed Liberty Reservoir cross the property, much of which is zoned for conservation. Planners created the original zoning, which allows one house for each 3-acre lot, to protect water resources, the judge wrote.

The changes in the neighborhood are the result of the Freedom Miniplan, the county growth plan approved in 1977.

"The commercial and residential developments did not justify change due to the fact they were contemplated in the original plan," Judge Beck wrote.

"The developer had the difficult burden of proof, and the court agreed they had not made it," Ms. Ostrander said. "The law on these issues is very clear, and the court realized it."

The homeowners association is not opposed to development of the property, according to the 1977 plan.

"These are not NIMBYs, who want to stop development as soon as they move in," she said, referring to the acronym for "Not in My Back Yard." "These are people who want responsible growth at the current approved density."

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