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Residents get role in review process They can meet with developers, officials


After months of debate, Carroll residents have won a say in the development review process -- at least until October.

Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission approved by a 4-to-2 margin Tuesday a proposal allowing residents to take part in subdivision advisory committee meetings with developers and county officials. The measure will receive a six-month test starting at the April advisory meeting.

"The process of early, meaningful dialogue between citizens and developers must begin," said Wayne Schuster, a member of Freedom Area Community Planning Council. He hoped the trial period "will result in voluntary and open communication."

The commissioners painstakingly reviewed every line of the proposal before a crowd of about 100 residents. Before amending, adding and deleting lines from the original text, they heard the often acerbic opinions of several residents on both sides of the issue.

"You are opening a can of worms," said Ed Beard, a Westminster resident. "These same people will come back in six months and they won't be satisfied. And, there is the added expense of all this."

Robert H. Lennon, planning commissioner who, with Robin Frazier, cast the dissenting votes, said the mechanisms for resident input are already in place.

"Nobody can develop in a way inconsistent with zoning law," Lennon said. "This process creates another burden on an owner who wants to use his property in a way consistent with Carroll County law."

Rather than stifle industrial development, the commission removed provisions that would subject industry to the proposal. The deletions were a concession to the Economic Development Commission, concerned that any delay in the process could mean lost business opportunities. Jack Lyburn, county director of economic development, has stressed the need for a quick approval for industrial projects.

'Good message'

"Exempting industry sends a good message to business that the community is making economic development its No. 1 priority," said Lyburn. "It says we are serious and it puts us on a level playing field with the rest of the counties in the state."

The proposal requires the county planning department to post signs on any property where four or more lots are to be developed and to notify adjacent homeowners -- by mail and newspaper advertising -- of impending projects two weeks before the advisory meetings.

"We are about to let the inmates run the asylum," said Hoby Wolf, owner of a regional airport in South Carroll. "When you start publicizing, you will be inundated with minutia."

Residents, particularly those from South Carroll, which absorbs about a third of the county's annual growth, had asked for public comment at the concept stage, the earliest step in a review process that can last two years.

By the time a project reaches the advisory committee, made up of all county departments that deal with development, the details have become extremely technical. The commission denied the request but would be willing to review it after the trial period.

David Bowersox, an attorney representing Carroll County Homebuilders Association, said the mechanisms for public comment are already in place. Any other considerations should be included in the master plan, which the county is now revising, he said.

"The shelter industry welcomes citizen input as a way to solve problems before they become problems," Bowersox said. "It should be embraced as a provision of the master plan."

Master plan

Patricia Holbert, who is serving on a committee that is revising the county's master plan (the blueprint for development in Carroll) revision committee, urged the commission to keep its commitment to economic development and widen the tax base.

"The ultimate public input is the contribution of those of us working on the master plan update," Holbert said. "If you are committed to the master plan and abide by it, you won't have to worry about public input."

The County Commissioners will make the final decision on the proposal next week. They are expected to support it.

"Notices, signs, public hearings -- where do we draw the line and get on with business?" asked Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who is willing to give the proposal a try. "If citizens are adamant, let's give this a fair evaluation."

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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