Agreeing that residents often are left out of the loop when it comes to development, the county planning commission last night agreed to study neighborhood-based planning councils.
"This could go a long way toward making Carroll County the way people who live here want it to be," said commission Chairman Dennis P. Bowman.
The seven-member commission unanimously decided to establish a task force that will, within four months, outline the form the planning councils will take.
Dan Hughes, founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, suggested the planning councils.
More than 60 people crowded into the small meeting room in Westminster last night, most of them representatives from 30 South Carroll neighborhood associations.
"I think this will make this a more inclusive process," Mr. Hughes said.
The task force, to be formed in the next few weeks, will seek to establish a community planning council for the Eldersburg area.
If that council is established, the planning commission said it would evaluate its effectiveness before creating more planning councils countywide.
K. Marlene Conaway, the county's acting planning director, endorsed the idea of community-based planning councils.
"I am excited about the fact that community residents want to be a part of the process," she said. "Good planning, after all, is a process, not just a one-time thing."
Mr. Hughes first announced his desire to push for community planning councils during a meeting last week with South Carroll neighborhood activists.
He said it offered the perfect balance between the current system -- in which all decisions about planning are made in Westminster -- and turning Eldersburg into an incorporated community.
Mr. Hughes' model would be the community-based councils being created in Harford County.
When the program there is finished, a dozen Harford communities will have councils made up of seven to 14 people representing neighborhoods, businesses, employers, schools and churches.
The impetus for a radical change in the way Carroll handles planning was a controversial decision last month in which the planning commission decided to halt final approval of developments that would be served by crowded schools.
That move, while it doesn't halt residential growth, ultimately could lead to the delay of construction on more than 700 lots that are awaiting final approval.
The county's most severely crowded schools, according to planning and education officials, are near Westminster, Eldersburg and Hampstead.
The move also came weeks before two of the three county commissioners decided to remove Mr. Bowman when his term expires and replace him with Joseph Mettle and appoint another South Carroll resident, Grant S. Dannelly.
Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates said earlier this week that they applauded the planning commission's final approval moratorium, but that is was an example of "too little, too late."