Call it an optimum growth goal. Call it an infrastructure assessment. But don't call it a growth ceiling.
As residential development in Carroll heads farther north, Manchester is taking steps to head it off. The town has launched an effort to set a target population of approximately 5,000, half of the 10,000 envisioned in its current master plan.
But Manchester officials say they are not proposing a growth ceiling.
"We're not closing the doors," said Councilman Chris D'Amario. "We're just going about it with our eyes wide open, trying to come to an understanding of what's comfortable for this town to handle."
Other towns' troubles
Manchester officials have watched other towns -- most notably their southern neighbor, Hampstead -- struggle with the consequences of rapid growth. They say their town is in a position to avoid similar problems before it becomes overwhelmed by development.
"We can learn from their successes and failures in the area of growth control," said Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy. "Looking into the future, we perceive that we can provide services for a population of 5,000. That's really what it boils down to."
Last month, the Manchester Town Council approved a resolution directing the Planning and Zoning Commission and the town staff to begin a review of the town's master plan to establish an "optimal growth level" and to make recommendations to the council addressing possible rezoning.
"How many more people can we assume and still be Manchester?" asked Michelle Ostrander, Manchester's town attorney.
"We're not just talking about having to stand in line at the Sheetz [store]for a cup of coffee. We're talking about vital issues of providing water and sewer service."
A population goal
The number 5,000 has surfaced as a population goal because it is the capacity of Manchester's water and sewage-treatment facilities, said Town Manager David M. Warner, who initiated the master plan review.
"We need to answer growth before it becomes unanswerable," Warner said. "If we wait until we're at 5,000 and say that's all we can provide services for, we probably can't stop at 5,000."
"We need to put something in place now, when we're at 3,100," he said.
Manchester recently completed a $12 million renovation of its wastewater-treatment plant and is under a state order to find other sources of drinking water because the town's springs, its main source of drinking water, are vulnerable to contamination.
Town officials question whether Manchester residents would be willing to pay for further upgrading of the treatment plant to serve a population exceeding 5,000.
Federal and state grants paid for much of the recent renovation, but that kind of public financing is no longer readily available, Warner said.
The other factor driving the review of growth plans is residents' strong desire to preserve Manchester's small-town identity before it's too late to reverse suburban development.
Lippy said townspeople have made him aware of their concerns.
"I must say, from the preponderance of calls I've gotten and my contacts with people on the street, their question is, 'Why have it at 5,000? Why not say no more growth right now?' " Lippy said. "Some people have expressed that in rather firm tones, to say the least."
As development in fast-growing areas such as Eldersburg and Hampstead has strained roads and schools, many Manchester residents have adopted a no-growth stance.
Hampstead's proximity a couple of miles south on Route 30 has brought the problems clearly into focus.
Hampstead, with a population of about 4,000, is not significantly larger than Manchester. But it has been developed more rapidly, mainly because of its easy access to the Baltimore metropolitan area.
A Maryland Municipal League study released this year found that Hampstead's assessable tax base had grown 395 percent in the past decade, the second-largest increase among 156 towns across the state. Manchester's growth rate of 182 percent in the same period ranked 34th in the state.
Hampstead's elected officials have invested substantial time in correcting what they view as shortsighted planning decisions by previous administrations that permitted too much growth too quickly.
Praise from a neighbor
Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin praised Manchester's efforts to plan the amount of development it can handle.
"It's all timing, taking a look at when the infrastructure's going to be there to support additional growth," he said. "I think in Hampstead that balance was never really looked at."
As residential development in Hampstead approaches capacity, developers will be looking north.
"There's going to be some substantial growth pressure in the future," Warner said.
Three major developments in Manchester are at various stages. The 162-unit Blevins Claim and the 70-unit Manchester Manor retirement community are under construction, and concept plans have been submitted for the 300-unit Manchester Farms.
Smaller subdivisions of 12 to 15 homes each are in the works.
Although Manchester's main goal in reviewing its master plan is to set limits on development, officials said that some growth is necessary to finance infrastructure improvements and to encourage commercial and retail expansion.
"We want to remain competitive and attractive because financially we need a degree of growth to survive," Warner said. "We cannot stagnate as a town."
Pub Date: 12/08/96