EVEN THOUGH new residential development profoundly affects the existing residents of a neighborhood, they often feel as though they don't have a significant say in planning decisions that affect the quality of their lives, not to mention the value of their properties. Establishing local planning councils throughout the county is an excellent proposal to give citizens a meaningful say in the development process.
The impetus for the new councils is coming from South Carroll, which in the past decade has witnessed an explosion of residential and commercial development. Until recently, none of the members of Carroll's planning commission lived in that section of the county. As a result, South Carroll residents have long felt as though the county government -- headquartered a dozen miles to the north in Westminster -- ignored their needs and concerns.
The appointment of three South Carroll residents to the commission has enhanced that area's voice, but that doesn't dilute the value of creating these community planning councils. Planning is a process. The more people participating in it, the better the outcome. No one knows these communities better than the people who live in them. These forums also give people the sense that they have a meaningful voice in determining their destinies.
For community activists such as Eldersburg resident Dan Hughes, these local planning councils are an acceptable alternative to incorporating into a town. Forming a municipal government can give people control over their communities, but that can be an expensive proposition. Local residents have to take on the responsibility of building and maintaining roads, water and sewer systems and providing public services such as garbage collection and police protection.
To its credit, the Carroll County Planning Commission embraced the concept of local planning councils at its last meeting -- which was also its first night meeting to elicit greater participation. It has established a task force to explore the creation and functioning of the local councils. The task force has four months to make recommendations. It is possible that by this time next year, local planning councils will be making significant contributions to the local planning process.