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Rapid growth spurs talk of incorporating Eldersburg group weighing options, including annexation; 'Picnic' for developers; Lack of guidance from county is key grievance


Frustrated by what they see as uncontrolled growth and a lack of leadership, a growing number of South Carroll activists are talking about incorporation, annexation or even, facetiously, secession.

Organizers say that although they can easily spot obstacles to any change in the unincorporated 30-square-mile Eldersburg area, the newly formed Solutions for a Better South Carroll has invited more than 50 community organizations and civic leaders to consider options at a meeting tomorrow.

"Unless we are an incorporated town, we seem to have no say in planning for our area," said Dan Hughes, a Monroe Avenue resident who helped found the organization. "Our general purpose is to anticipate, influence and, if necessary, respond to decisions made by the Carroll County government that will impact our neighborhoods," he wrote in a letter to community groups.

Incorporation is a costly alternative that has been talked about and rejected a number of times over the years. Making Eldersburg the county's ninth municipality would mean new taxes in addition to the county's property tax, which is $2.35 per $100 of assessed value, said County Commissioner Richard T. Yates, a 32-year Eldersburg resident. "Incorporation won't help, and I don't think most people want it," Mr. Yates said.

Another option, annexation to Sykesville, presents geographic and logistical difficulties, and also would mean more taxes, critics of that option say.

The town of 3,000 -- which has what many community leaders consider tough but fair development guidelines -- already has the county's highest municipal tax rate, 84 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Annexation to Sykesville would be nearly impossible, said Kathy Horneman, a Carrolltowne resident and the leader of the South Carroll Coalition.

She met with town officials a few times but rejected the idea because "Eldersburg and Sykesville have different flavors that would clash."

Incorporation as a municipality probably would be along elementary school boundaries, she said. The coalition would have to collect and verify signatures from 25 percent of the registered voters and then schedule an election, which would mean a year or more of work, far too much for the 25 coalition members, Ms. Horneman said.

Unchecked growth

"It requires so much energy and so many volunteers," she said.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said annexation probably isn't the answer but that the county seems to have no plan for handling the rapid growth surrounding his town.

"Developers are having a picnic in Eldersburg, doing whatever they want," Mr. Herman said. "Eldersburg is out of control with nobody minding the store."

Neighborhood leaders say the numbers tell the story of the county's inability to deal with growth along the Liberty Road corridor, where the population has increased 20 percent since 1990. With Eldersburg's population at 25,000, roads and other services are swamped by residential and commercial development.

Enrollment at all six area schools -- four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school -- is above capacity. Schools that are being planned or are under construction probably will open at near capacity.

Recently, school officials helped defeat a developer's proposal to rezone the 200-acre Belt Farm property near Linton and Liberty roads that would have doubled the number of homes allowed on the site to 200.

Last week, the county planning commission halted residential development near the county's crowded elementary schools. The ban means only that the commission will not allow developers of projects with four or more units to record lots. It does not apply to developers of projects with three or fewer lots.

Lack of communication

Despite such recent moves, the 50 or more neighborhood groups in South Carroll "are stymied by a severe lack of communication," among themselves and with the county, Mr. Hughes said.

"They have a voice," said Mr. Yates. "They elected me, and I'm working on it."

Mr. Herman said he can't see the results of that labor.

"We have good controls on growth in [Sykesville], and it's still hard to deal with pressures from developers," he said. "The county has become a stranger which has lost many key figures familiar with our area."

In the last few months, several key county employees who worked closely with South Carroll leaders have left county jobs. Planning Director Edmund Cueman; Gregg Horner, who organized many South Carroll projects; and Neil Ridgely, the county landscape architect, have resigned.

K. Marlene Conaway, acting county planning director, said South Carroll is developing according to a master plan adopted 20 years ago, but she acknowledges that services, schools and roads lag behind development.

Solutions for a Better South Carroll meets at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Eldersburg library, 6400 W. Hemlock Drive. Information: 549-0317.

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