Commissioners ponder building permit limit Some officials fear facilities inadequate for construction pace


A county conference on growth issues has the county commissioners talking about limiting building permits.

A ceiling on permits would give the county "time to breathe and give serious thought to long-term issues," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said.

J. Michael Evans, director of public works and organizer of the Oct. 21 conference attended by county and municipal officials, delivered the results to the commissioners yesterday.

"Nobody is slamming the door on growth," Mr. Evans said. "People feel a strong need for growth management."

Several speakers at the conference repeated concerns about inadequate facilities and schools and roads that have not kept pace with home construction, he said.

Nearly 90 percent of the 60 participants saw growth "as a necessary part of a thriving community," he said. But a greater number, 96 percent, stressed the need for a growth management ordinance. An informal telephone survey of 237 county residents yielded the same results, he said.

"We have a strong consensus about what growth is going on in existing areas and a mandate to rectify obvious discomforts," Mr. Brown said. "This is a golden opportunity to seriously address growth."

He suggested a review of a proposed ordinance, drafted and tabled last spring, that would limit the number of lots each builder could record annually.

"Let's bring the ordinance back and get moving on it," he said.

Mr. Brown would strengthen that proposal with a building limit that would halve the 1,500 use-and-occupancy permits issued for new homes last year.

He also would like to limit the life of a building permit. About 9,000 lots are now recorded, with no limit on when construction can begin.

Of particular concern is the Freedom area in South Carroll, where about 3,000 of the recorded lots are and where 490 homes were built in 1994. The commissioners have heard repeatedly from residents concerned that facilities are inadequate and overburdened.

"We should put Freedom to bed for an indefinite period while we try to address growth issues in that area," Mr. Brown said. "We have to assume responsibility for the Freedom district."

The county master plan concentrates growth around the eight municipalities and South Carroll, an unincorporated area that until recently has had little say in its future.

Several South Carroll community groups are organizing and trying to form a planning council for the area.

"Don't continue growth in areas that don't want it," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates, an Eldersburg resident. "Put it around areas that do, like Union Bridge."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he has been talking about limiting growth for four years, but he took issue with changing an 18-year-old master plan.

"South Carroll is a designated growth area along with the towns," he said. "We don't want to destroy agriculture areas with growth."

The three commissioners support managing growth but differ on how to do it.

Mr. Brown would not give developers more say than homeowners in the commission's decisions.

"We either serve the builders' or the people's interest," he said. "Builders can come to a public hearing like everyone else."

Mr. Dell disagreed.

"The decision has an impact on the builders," he said. "They know the law, and they should have input."

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