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Planning panel to discuss proposal for public input Decision is expected on giving residents say in development review


The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to make a decision tonight on whether citizen comment should be part of the development review process.

Community groups, primarily from South Carroll, have urged the six-member panel to create a public voice in development, allowing comment long before bulldozers arrive on a property. Many residents feel they have no formal say in the process.

The proposal before the planning commission calls for posting signs on any property that would be developed and allowing citizen input at subdivision advisory committee (SAC) meetings, an early step in the development review process that involves a thorough probe of every phase of the project.

The planning and economic development commissions reviewed the county Planning Department proposal last week. The Economic Development Commission doesn't oppose citizen input, as long as it does not delay the review process.

Carolyn Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council, called the proposal "a pilot process that may lead to better cooperation and communication in the future." She suggested a six-month trial period and then a review of alternatives.

"It is unfortunate that we have to legislate citizen input," Fairbank said. "But, all in all, there has been an attempt to address the issue."

The Freedom council wants to give residents an earlier opportunity to comment on development, as early as the concept stage. But the council will not push for that now.

"I would really like to see a more cooperative venture at the concept stage," she said. "Then, the builder has not put a lot of money into the project. SAC is not the best place, but at least it is a place."

At the subdivision committee advisory meetings, county officials discuss sediment control, waste-water management and grading. Many details are so technical that "the public is hard-pressed to educate themselves," she said.

The Freedom council has recommended minor revisions to the proposal, deleting a few measures that would encumber the process. Those include the creation of a public information file and a list of interested parties for each plan. The revisions were made in an effort to address officials' fears that public input would lengthen the review process.

"We streamlined the process to make it less cumbersome for the Planning Department," Fairbank said. "Too many steps can be an administrative nightmare."

The revisions also include a provision for reusable 4-by-6-foot signs to be posted on the affected property three weeks before a subdivision advisory committee meeting. Council members want evening meetings to make attendance easier for the working public.

The council is showing its willingness to work with the county, said Joseph H. Mettle, planning commissioner. He expects the planning commission to vote favorably on the amended draft tonight.

"The council does not want the builder or the county to go to unnecessary expense," Mettle said. "The Freedom council embraced every suggestion positively. I predict [tonight] will be a love affair. We have really all started talking now and we have found citizen input is a real win-win situation."

The Freedom council hopes to become a prototype that will spur other Carroll communities to form councils. The Freedom council recently met with citizen groups from Harford County, where 10 community councils work closely with the county planning department to monitor growth.

Greg Dorsey, president of the Homebuilders Association, said that group is reserving comment and will announce its position on citizen input at the meeting.

Thomas G. Hiltz, planning commission chairman, has reviewed comments from several government and private groups.

"We have a better understanding of all the stakeholders' concerns," Hiltz said. "It makes for an efficient meeting."

The Planning and Zoning Commission meets at 7 p.m. tonight at Oklahoma Road Middle School, 6300 Oklahoma Road, Sykesville. Information: 857-2145.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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