Property rights don't call for allowing sprawl
As a member of the "managed growth" camp, as referred to by state Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson (R-Carroll) in his letter (Aug. 18), I disagree with the underlying premise of the senator's position, which would give farmers the exclusive right to develop property without the scrutiny of "adequate public facilities" tests.
Nevertheless, I hope Mr. Ferguson's letter indicates that the county's state delegation is willing to discuss the issues of property rights and adequate facilities before introducing new legislation similar to last year's debacle, Senate Bill 649.
The facts do not fully support Mr. Ferguson's position. In the 1960s, Carroll County adopted a master plan calling for development to be concentrated in designated "growth areas," rather than promoting sprawl. This process of suburban development has been successful in communities throughout the country as a measure to inhibit the true costs of sprawl, which include rapid residential growth, a lack of non-residential tax base and increasingly higher property taxes (sound familiar?).
In fact, the county appears interested in further exploring the economics of continuing the development of designated growth areas and simultaneously improving agricultural preservation efforts, as evidence by the formation of the four work teams for the ongoing Master Plan Update. There are existing mechanisms to provide ag preservation, such as "transfer of development rights" (TDR) and the current ag preservation program. Although the number of family farms in the United States has declined since the mid-1900s, all Carroll countians would benefit by a continued healthy farming economy. However, it seems to me that each of us in our given profession works very hard, not just farmers. Why is it necessary for non-farm taxpayers to pay for a farmer-turned developer's school construction, roadway impact, fire, police and other emergency services fees? When a farmer's child goes to school, or when the farmer needs emergency services, why shouldn't the farmer have paid for these impacts when subdividing?
During Senate Bill 649 and more recent debates, it was revealed that farmers were promised a streamlined development process 1978, rather than a free adequate facility ride. So why not re-focus the "property rights" issue on the development process?
If the zoning is conforming and facilities and services are adequate, there should be no harm in combining preliminary plans and final plats into one process, saving time and money for everyone (farmer and developer-for-a-living alike). However, if farmers, lawyers or Indian chiefs want to subdivide property, they should be required to pay a fair share of development impact fees. Finally, Mr. Ferguson, before crafting important new legislation, please attend the ongoing county master plan meetings and listen to what nearly 125 constituents are discussing. My belief is that you will hear many opinions and the true depth of this issue. The evolving consensus should be used as the basis for any necessary changes to state legislation, and will likely reflect the hopes and desires for equity in many "camps."
Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson wants to allow farmers to sell six acres out of 120 for homebuilding without adequate facilities review. .. Before people in Carroll County and elsewhere who are living with the greed of developers will abide by this new "son of Senate Bill 649," there are some comments and questions that need addressing.
Mr. Ferguson argues, without verification, that, "both camps on the issue want to allow family farms to sell six out of 120 for development." Really? Will development of six acres mean one house per acre or four? Or more?
Suppose all 961 farmer-families in Carroll County (1992 census) decide to build at the same time. That's a minimum of 961 new homes that will crowd the schools, roads, emergency services -- the same as if a single development built 961 homes. Shouldn't a cap be required? Further, when an original farm of, say, 120 acres loses six acres to development, is that it for that farm or is it considered a new farm of 114 acres, thereby opening the door for selling of another six acres and so on? Mr. Ferguson claims to be a constitutionalist first, a Republican second. Fair enough. However, while the Constitution grants us freedoms and rights to do what we want with our land, there are other provisions and laws to prevent us from hurting others.
The First Amendment allowing free speech doesn't allow us to shout "fire" in a crowded theater with reckless disregard. Living in a development, I do not have the right to turn my house into a convenience store or a gas station or a used car lot.
Inadequate facilities are inadequate facilities and should apply to everyone in the county. Development must be slowed or halted until infrastructure catches up. And the cost burden of new homes should not be borne by those who are against them in the first place.
Residents of South Carroll and Hampstead, affected most by the uncontrolled building being allowed by county "planners" and the Board of Zoning Appeals, now are the largest voting bloc in the county. And we don't intend to forget at the polls those politicians and planning staff people who are permitting the rampant growth that is causing our taxes to rise out of sight and our quality of life to diminish.
Why don't people like skateboarders? Well
I feel as if the skateboarders have bitten the hand that has attempted to feed them -- mine.
Since my election in May '95, I have listened, with much empathy, to the pleas of parents and teens for help in securing a place where they could practice the wholesome sport of skateboarding unmolested.
I took the following steps to aid their cause:
Requested our agent to give an estimate of enhanced insurance premium if the town would place a facility on its property. (Study soon to be completed.)
Sold Joe Buerer, director of "C.C. Prides," a worthy teen-age initiative, on the idea of combining the teens activities with skateboarding, all under the same roof. Much effort has been directed toward this. We thought we had it nailed down when the old Super Thrift seemed available, but a flea market moved in. Our search continues undiminished.
A committee of parents and teens is now being formed. The group will work on the size and desired features of a skating ramp.
My goal is to sell the council on the possibility of construction a ramp at Westside Park, an attractive but little-used park, bought with Public Open Space funds.
There are many reasons my hand still smarts:
The number of complaints from residents has reached an unusual volume.
The skateboarders have become increasingly arrogant and destructive in their vandalism.
Heavy concrete lane-bumpers on the municipal parking lot have been shifted to please the skaters' fancy, impeding parking for church-goers.
The lighter fiberglass bumpers have been stolen repeatedly from the parking lot of a Main Street insurance company, and the concrete flower box damaged.
Grill work leading to the entrance of the United Church of Christ has been knocked down at two places.
I personally confronted skateboarders drinking soda bottles purchased at #1 North. Some bottles of the same brand were broken on the lot.
The new principal and I observed vandalism at the memorial to Specialist Chas. Bowman, Jr. The heavy marble was shifted 45 )) degrees off its base. Tell-tale marks were on the curb.
The police have been given their orders. Violators will have their skateboards seized, their parents called and boards retrieved after they have been given a copy of the code and the penalties involved.
Only two public skateboard facilities exist in all of Maryland.
After all of this, I can understand why.
Elmer C. Lippy Jr.
The writer is mayor of Manchester.
Pub Date: 9/01/96